Like many of us, Brian Abdullah has volunteered during Holman’s Days of Caring as part of our United Way campaign. And also like most of us, he has enjoyed that work but when the day was over his mind simply returned to the pressing issues of his own life. Brian, who helps man the phones at ARI’s Maple Shade TRC, was looking for something more.
And so it was at this year’s Days of Caring that Brian had a transformative experience. Working at a project at Fairview Baptist Church, recently purchased by Camden’s Urban Promise Ministries and where that faith-based organization runs its afterschool program, Brian met Tony Vega. Tony runs the afterschool program – in fact, grew up in it – and was looking for help with the kids. Soon Brian was volunteering two days a week, impressed both by Tony’s selfless devotion to the children of the neighborhood, and by the children themselves.
As Christmas approached, Brian felt like he wanted to do something special for the forty or fifty kids who attended every day. Many came from homes where Christmas festivities were beyond the scope of budgets already stretched to the breaking point. Although both he and Tony often dug into their own pockets to augment the program, what Brian had in mind was a little too ambitious for their own resources. He wanted a real Christmas celebration, with a holiday meal and Santa handing out gifts to every child, and he wanted to be able to provide the program with some of the essentials it still lacked in its new space. As Brian said, he wanted to make the church “a home away from home” for the kids.
Brian applied for, and received, an Employee Donation from Holman to help fund his vision. Fortunately, he’s also done some catering in his day, so he was able to cook a Christmas meal for 50. Equally serendipitous, it seems he was able to get word to Santa, who appeared with a gift for every child at the party.
In the end, Brian was able to turn a new home for the after-school program into a “home away from home” for its children – and also for himself.