volunteer-xmas-web.jpgMIAMI GARDENS — After running a couple of errands on a recent Saturday afternoon, Kristen Glaspy returned home and got pounced on by two little girls.

The energetic children threw their arms around Glaspy, their house mother at His House Children’s Home, 20000 N.W. 47th Ave., Miami Gardens, and clung to her as they told her about all the Christmas decorating they had done with the help of His House staffers and volunteers from the organization Urban Promise during His House’s annual Deck the Halls event.

The girls told Glaspy that they had already set up the Christmas tree, which was shining brightly in the living room of their house and now they were baking cookies while the boys helped another group of volunteers put up the outdoor Christmas lights.

“Their lives are so uncertain and this is a moment of certainty,” Glaspy said. “They know that Santa’s coming, that Jesus loves them, and they get to be kids even if they never felt that way before.”

His House began its annual Deck the Halls tradition in 2003, the same year that Glaspy left her private practice as a massage therapist to become a fulltime house mother.

“This is my missionary work,” Glaspy said, hugging one of the young girls clinging to her waist. And, for any volunteer, Glaspy said, His House’s Deck the Halls is “a moment you can really shine in good will.”
His House staffers said 250 volunteers from community organizations and churches took part in Deck the Halls this year. The volunteers split up into teams and helped His House’s 120 foster children decorate the 14 cottages that they call home.

The event held this year on Dec. 1 kicked off with a little caroling and a worship service at the His House chapel. After that, every cottage buzzed with its own activity as the volunteers assigned to the houses helped the children decorate their  Christmas trees.

They also baked cookies with the children and strung up the outdoor lights, stopping every now and then to welcome small groups of carolers dropping by to spread some holiday cheer.

Rhesia Lewis, 27, a youth leader at Palm Vista Community Church, helped two foster boys bake cookies at the cottage where she was volunteering. The boys do not speak English and Lewis does not speak Spanish but, with a little help from His House staffers, they baked four trays of cookies for the

boys and their housemates.
“Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus and what he did for us and it feels good to share that with them,” Lewis said.

This is the first year Palm Vista Community Church, 15315 N.W. 60th Ave., Miami Lakes,  has taken part in Deck the Halls. Lewis said the church and its youth group were looking for an event, like Deck the Halls, to add to its ministry. Several other groups were also looking to help this year.

Because of the overwhelming response, “we were booked by early October,” said Jackie Raventos, activities and volunteer coordinator at His House.

As the boys baked with Lewis, they said this was the first year they were taking part in the Deck the Halls event, adding that they liked all the activity.

“Later today, when we sit down and have dinner with them, we hope to communicate to them that God loves them even if they’re having difficult lives,” Lewis said.

At another cottage down the road, Larissa Bailey, a residential counselor at His House, helped the teen girls who live there and their house mother, Davanna Grizzle, string white lights around their Christmas tree.

Deck the Halls, Bailey said, helps the foster children forget the “pain, misery, and loneliness.”

For Grizzle, 22, this Christmas will be the first one she and her mother, Joy Wharton, who is also a house mother at His House, will celebrate since her grandmother—Wharton’s mother—died in 2010.

Grizzle said she and her mother look forward to celebrating the Christmas holiday with the six girls they care for.“It gives the holiday more of the family feeling with them,” she said.

Back at Glaspy’s house, the kitchen hummed as Urban Promise volunteers laughed and joked with the foster girls while they mixed the ingredients to bake a cake and greased up a couple of pans to bake cookies.

Ana Ojeda, executive director and co-founder of Urban Promise, said she first learned of Deck the Halls three years ago when she volunteered to photograph the event. Soon after that, she got more involved with His House and served as a mentor to one of the foster girls.

Urban Promise first took part in Deck the Halls in 2011 and, this year, the organization returned with 20 volunteers and seven members of Ojeda’s family to help out.

“It’s really touching,” Ojeda said. “It’s shining a little light into the lives of these kids.”