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Adopt a Family

Local groups help local families for the holidays

December 14, 2008
By RICHARD NILSEN, The Leader-Herald

One way people have found to "pay it forward" at holiday time is to adopt a family.

Louise Naiman said she started the tradition more than 20 years ago when her family was having a difficult time.

"I was a single mom raising two boys," she said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Boulevard Elementary School guidance counselor Sue Grossi, left, talks with the Richards Family members Isaiah Jackson, 5, Kilynn Carrobis, 6 months, Amanda Richards, Mary Jane Atkins, 3 and Shantha Richards, 8, at the school in Gloversville Thursday.

Because of her own experience, she said she especially likes to adopt a single-mother family because she identifies with that experience. Her only criteria is that there is no live-in boyfriend present.

"I get a name through the school where I worked or through Community Maternity Services," she said.

Naiman said the experience was educational for her eldest son, Shaun.

"I had him go to my basement pantry and help pick out food to put in a holiday basket that first year," she said. "That was in 1987. At first he picked out everything he didn't like to eat. Then I had him put all that back and said, 'Now pick out your favorite things.'"

She said she also took her son shopping for clothes and toys for the family she was adopting that year. Once again she asked him to pick out things he would like to receive. Her son now lives in Schenectady and is carrying on the tradition there.

Guidance Counselor Sue Grossi at Boulevard Elementary School in Gloversville said she has been working with families and holiday help for 10 years.

"We try to help those who ask," Grossi said. "We just try to make sure they are on the free or reduced lunch program [as an income indicator]."

But that doesn't have to be the case.

"Sometimes a family is just having a hard time," she said. "It's that time of year."

Grossi said a family may be having difficulties because of the loss of a job or any of a number of reasons.

Amanda Richards said her four children wouldn't have had much of a Christmas if it hadn't been for Grossi and the outreach at Boulevard. Richards said she works at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Johnstown, but could only get 10 hours this week, for example.

"I just called the school to see it they could help out for the holidays," Richards said.

Her four children range in age from 6 months to 8 years old.

"We just want to share the wealth with one another," Grossi said. "I'm amazed at the generosity of this community."

Within the school she said the last week of the school year is "Casual for a Cause" week when staff can "dress down" while donating at least $5 towards families the school is helping. She said last year the school helped 10 families in this way.

"That may not sound like a lot," she said. "But some of those families have five or six kids in the family.

Often local agencies and businesses adopt a family for the holidays. At Catholic Charities of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, Director John Nasso said they adopt a family internally as a staff.

"Our staff get names and items needed to buy gifts for," he said Tuesday.

He said many churches such as St. Mary's Church in Amsterdam do something similar, often hanging paper ornaments on a tree with names, ages and sizes or articles needed which are purchased by church members and put back under the tree for distribution to the families in need.

The local Soroptimist Club takes it one step further.

Laurie Agee is the chairwoman for the committee to help a family in need and has a budget of about $1,000 to help the family. But they go beyond the holidays with the help.

"Usually a family is referred by a local school system," Agee said Tuesday. "This year we got the name from the Mental Helath Association of Fulton and Montgomery Counties."

MHA Director Janine Dykeman said the family they referred was in Fulton COunty, not together and were very needy.

"There are a number of siblings in this family and they are struggling," Dykeman said.

Agee said they not only buy gifts for the holidays, but also get birthday gifts for the children throught the year, help with Halloween costumes, make up a Thanksgiving Day basket and may do other items and events.

"It's a full-year thing," Agee said. "We also get a wish list from the mother or children of itmes wanted for Christmas.."

She said members go above and beyond the budget to personally provide many of the gift items.

"I've been with Soropimists for 10 years but they've been doing this for at least 20 years," she said.

According to the Soroptimist International Web site: "Soroptimist is an international organization for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls, in local communities and throughout the world. "

Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at



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