Proyecto Navidad: A Season of Giving and Remembering
Thursday, December 22nd, 2016
By: Cassie Amundson-Muñoz & Rebecca De León, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” —Aesop
More than 25 years ago, our staff at Casa de Esperanza’s headquarters and shelter, El Refugio in Twin Cities, Minnesota, started Proyecto Navidad as a way to make the holidays more cheerful for the women and children staying at the shelter during the holiday season. Each year, our advocates identify families staying at El Refugio with spirits in need of lifting but have limited means. The advocates coordinate the families’ holiday wish lists and generous donors “adopt” the family for the holidays.
The largest donor is White Bear Lake High School in the neighboring city of White Bear Lake, Minn. In 1996, Spanish teachers Marcia Wellstone Markuson (daughter of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone) and Mary Dahle were looking for a way to get their students involved in a service learning project. They contacted the staff at Casa de Esperanza, who shared that the shelter could use donations of gifts for families for Proyecto Navidad. That year, the students worked together to purchase gifts for a family of 10 at the shelter. The following year, they donated gifts again, and again the year after that.
In 2002, the students dedicated themselves to Proyecto Navidad with renewed vigor in honor of Markuson, who lost her life in a plane crash that year. From there, the altruistic spirit grew beyond the Spanish classes at White Bear Lake High School to involve the entire school. Without these students’ support, Proyecto Navidad wouldn’t be able to impact more than 40 families annuallymuch needed winter materials, household items, and other gifts.
The school’s involvement in Proyecto Navidad has left many students feeling inspired to continue giving back; many students participate long after they’ve graduated. This spring, the students created a video about their participation in Proyecto Navidad for entry in a local contest about making a difference in people’s lives, and we are happy to congratulate them on winning the contest! You can see their video here.
Through Casa de Esperanza, Marcia Wellstone Markuson and Mary Dahle were able to inspire youth to be part of something bigger than them to give back to the community, fostering a sense of empathy and charity, and solidifying their identities as engaged citizens. We invite you to join us this holiday season in not forgetting the families in shelters by considering donating to a shelter near you. You can find your nearest domestic violence shelters at domesticshelters.org. The biggest requests from our families are always for groceries or gas, or gift cards to Target or Walmart so our advocates can go with families and give them the opportunity to pick out a gift for the children.
Each year, as this project grows, we help make a difference in more lives, and we can only hope to continue igniting the spirit in generations of youth and families to come.