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Jan 2015

SILVER RIDGE PARK WEST Head Start Christmas Luncheon

Head Start Christmas Luncheon
The Christmas Luncheon has been run by Vivian Evanchile for 17 years with Co-Chair Donna Wacha along with the students from Donnvan Catholic School in Toms River.  What a great afternoon for the children and of course the adults enjoy themselves watching the children.
If there’s one thing that can get three generations together to hang out, it’s Christmas.
That’s the underlying feeling behind the holiday party that Silver Ridge Park West’s Friendship Circle holds every year for underpriviliged children. There’s singing, dancing, and of course food. And at the end of the event comes the big man himself, Santa Claus, to give gifts to the boys and girls.
The children were from the Ocean Inc. Berkeley Head Start, and lived in Berkeley, Beachwood, and South Toms River. There were 32 children all together.  
There were twice as many seniors enjoying the festivities, filling the Silver Ridge Park West clubhouse. At one table, there were two World War II veterans. One woman was talking to each child, making sure they had enough to eat, and giving high fives. 
Throughout this, they were being helped by National Honor Society students from Donovan Catholic, formerly Monsignor Donovan High School. There was almost one teen there for every child, bringing them food, playing games, and generally getting to know them. But they were also getting to know some of the senior citizens there, too.
This was one of the main purposes, said program coordinator Vivian Evanchik. Every year, this has been a chance for three generations to spend time together in a way that they normally would not. Some residents of the senior community don’t get a chance to see their children or grandchildren that frequently, so this fills a need for them. 
To give you some idea of how long this has been going on, the event is now in its 18th year. That means the children who were there at the first one are now in their early 20s.
The Friendship Circle club organizes everything, and seats fill up quickly, Evanchik said. Even residents who have trouble getting around make it to this event. 
“People love this so much, they come out in wheelchairs and in walkers,” she said.
Donations poured in from local banks, funeral homes, car dealerships, supermarkets and dentists. “Party on With Natalie” provided games and singalongs, as they have in the past.
“I never have any trouble getting people to come out to help,” she said.
One returning volunteer was Sunny the clown. He was played by Silver Ridge West resident Joseph Brando, 90, a station engineer who went to clown school when he retired. He performed sleight of hand tricks. Just as the children thought they had a trick figured out, he would turn it around and confound them. Every child wanted to be part of the show, and waved their hands to be picked to be part of the act. Even the senior citizens, sitting at their tables, could be overheard talking among themselves, trying to figure out how the tricks were done.
Needing an answer to the mystery, one of the Donovan students spoke to him after the show. Danielle Torre, 17, of Toms River, said that unfortunately, he didn’t reveal any of the secrets to how the tricks were done. But, she did enjoy talking with him, and having lunch with the little ones.
“I really like being around both age groups, and being able to help out,” she said.
The students in the National Honor Society at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River raised the funds, shopped, and wrapped gifts that were given to the kids, said their advisor, Lynn Damon. “Now they get to see where it’s going.”
The Headstart kids arrived in the late morning, and had games, food, shows, songs, and a visit from Santa Claus, just after they sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
This has been a big event for the kids as well, said Ed Crilley, a teacher at Ocean, Inc. Evanchik has been getting them excited for it during her weekly visits, when she reads to them.
“They’ve been talking about it for weeks now,” he said.
“I’ve been hanging Christmas lights,” 4-year-old Jonathan B. said manner-of-factly. “I’m also looking forward to a Jake and the Neverland Pirates bike with lights.”
Although he might have to wait a few more weeks for that, there was a big bag of presents and treats up at the front of the hall for every child.
According to the Friendship Circle’s web site, they meet the second Thursday of September, October and November to organize this party. They are always looking for help with organizing. Additionally, they are looking for people to sew, crochet or knit presents for the children. These projects can be done at home any time during the year. For more information, call Vivian Evanchik at (732) 240-9375.
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