It started with a crock pot.
In the early 2000’s, Christa Witt was a student at NKU, juggling her communications major, a career and three kids. Managing her time was difficult, and finding friends who could relate to her endeavors was an even tougher challenge: after presenting a project about young people who receive public assistance, she recalled hostility from her classmates;one asked why she wrote a report on “those kinds of students”.
Walking between classes one day, she unfolded a brochure about NKU’s LEAP program, which represented student parents and gave them a network of support.
As December approached, the program proved invaluable: as part of the university’s annual Holiday Help event a faculty member sponsored her family, shopping for presents to stack under the tree.
Relieving the burden of playing Santa on a tight budget was a gift in its own right, but Witt was surprised when her sponsor asked what she wanted for Christmas:
“To have somebody ask me what I wanted was amazing,” she said. “I didn’t get Christmas gifts. But somebody bought me a crock pot. I was beside myself.”
The appliance is still in her kitchen today: in the spring, it helped her grab first place at the alumni chili cook-off.
Now academic coordinator of the College of Informatics, Witt keeps the spirit of giving alive and well. For the past 12 years, she’s helped organize the Holiday Help, managed by NKU’s Parental Advisory Council (PAC).
This year’s call for sponsors was the program’s most successful to date: more sponsors than families in need signed up for the Help, leaving room for the surplus volunteers to donate time and money towards a party held on Dec. 14, which will treat the participating parents and children to a free dinner, photos with Santa and small gifts.
“A little over 30 sponsors signed up and there were about 23 families in total,” said Amanda Johnson, a former student parent who now works for NKU’s branch of the PAC.
These numbers came after Johnson expanded the program in 2016.
“I felt like there were student parents who were being missed,” she said. “Before, the program itself was only open to KTAP scholars, but even if students don’t qualify for welfare they still may need help for the holidays. Typically, they were only getting, like 10 students to apply, but last year we had over 20.”
The Holiday Help sponsors matched with families receive a wishlist of needs and wants for their respective family, detailing sizes and favorite stores.
In the past, the exchange was kept anonymous. This year, students can choose to meet up with their sponsors at the holiday party.
“Them being able to see the reactions themselves will make it more heartwarming,” Johnson said.
Outside of the Christmas season, the program invites students to attend a monthly parent cafe, that provides free dinner, child care and a workshop. It also provides gift baskets for student parents undergoing life changes, like moving or sending their children to school.
PAC is also seeking potential mentors who were formerly student parents. Those interested can contact the department at email@example.com.