When Lynne Dickerson, marketing director for Wiregrass Commons Mall, introduced the retail center’s Style Squad last year, she had two goals in mind.
The first is rather apparent. The Style Squad would serve as the ambassadors for the mall. True to that calling, Dickerson has kept the students, ranging in age from 14 to 18, busy. And, she notes, the two squads have carried out those duties quite well.
The second goal may not be quite as apparent. Her intent was, and is, to have her young charges actively involved in the region served by Wiregrass Commons Mall. A lot of what they do goes unnoticed by the shopping public. But it does not go unnoticed by the agencies and charities that they help.
Last year’s squad spent their year of service helping Children’s of Alabama, the state’s premier pediatric hospital based in Birmingham. The squad raised enough funds to purchase five wagons to be used at the facility, which serves the pediatric needs of the entire state at no charge to the families.
This year, Dickerson asked the squad to focus a little closer to home.
“We want to give back to the community,” Dickerson said. “The girls and I talked about it, about what organization we’d like to work with this year. They decided to help the Wiregrass Children’s Home.”
The facility is an emergency shelter for children who have been removed from their home environment. The Department of Human Resources makes the decision as to where the children will be housed temporarily.
The squad opted to raise money to provide Christmas gifts for the children at WCH.
“In October, we held a fall festival,” Dickerson said as she explained how the squad raised the funds. “We had seven games that visitors to the mall could play for 50 cents per ticket. The entire Style Squad manned the games.
“We saw so many kids playing the games.”
Enough participated in the festival for Wiregrass Commons Mall and the Style Squad to present a check for $478.50 to Christie Armstrong, executive director of the Wiregrass Children’s Home, last Tuesday afternoon. The funds were raised in a four-hour period.
“That’s awesome,” Mrs. Armstrong remarked as she accepted the check. “It’s going to make my kids some awesome Christmas gifts.”
During most special occasions, such as Christmas, Armstrong says the children, at what she termed a hybrid emergency shelter/group home, have sponsors who provide gifts and other items of need. But, because children can be brought to the facility on any given day and time, some will not have sponsors.
“We typically have our children sponsored,” Armstrong said. “Right now, however, we have two that are not sponsored. This will buy their Christmas.”
As she turned her focus to the Style Squad members who were on hand for the presentation, Armstrong said, “Sometimes you don’t get to see the direct impact (of what you have done for the children). This is huge what you have done for them. People like you have worked for them. You will be blessed for what you do. I hope you keep it up.”
Dickerson added that the Style Squad would like to visit the home and to take part in activities with the children.
“I hope you get to experience being with the kids,” Armstrong said. “We would love to have you come and visit them. We have a big house that fits a lot of children. The kids there enjoy meeting people. And, if they run into you at later time, they will see a familiar face.”
While speaking on the subject of children, Armstrong noted something a lot of children take for granted.
“It’s hard to believe we live in this part of the country, and some of these children have never heard of the birth of Jesus,” Armstrong said. “And they have never awakened on Christmas morning to find a gift specifically for them. Some have never sat at a dinner table and had a peaceful meal because of the turmoil in their house.
“In the big picture, to be a part of a family atmosphere has to be one of the greatest things a person can experience.”
It’s that type of atmosphere, Armstrong says, that those who work at the Wiregrass Children’s Home try to create, even under trying circumstances. It’s especially important, she noted, during the holidays.
“The house parents will handle Christmas for the children,” she said. “They treat the children like they are their own. That’s important. I don’t want the children to feel they are managed by the staff. If they are treated like part of a family, the less traumatic this whole experience will be for them.”
Since 1989 the Wiregrass Children’s Home has served as a safe haven for more than 700 children. Through the generosity of the community, their needs have always been met.
“Contributions like this (check from the mall) enable us to continue to make a difference one child at a time,” Armstrong said.