Brodhead teens share Christmas spirit with seniors
BRODHEAD--Sarah Strathman and Erin Kloepping discovered Christmas in the eyes of the elderly six years ago.
The Brodhead girls had extra holiday decorations from a school activity, and their moms suggested they take them to people in assisted living and nursing homes.
“I was a little uncomfortable with the idea,” Erin recalls.
Both were fifth-graders and didn't know what to expect, but they were pleasantly surprised.
“It was neat to see how happy residents were to get gifts from someone they did not know,” Sarah said.
The experience stayed with them.
When Christmas rolled around the next year, the girls used money from collecting milk caps to buy lap blankets for residents of three senior homes in Brodhead.
Again they enjoyed meeting the older people and sharing fellowship.
By seventh grade, the girls wanted to continue giving gifts but had to come up with a way to raise money. They persuaded teachers, friends, family members and others to bake goods for a sale at the Bank of Brodhead.
Every year, their effort grew.
This year, the 17-year-olds raised $1,600 from the bake sale and donations to fund their annual Christmas with the elderly.
On a recent evening, Sarah walked around a table piled high with boxes of puzzles, games, movies and other gifts at her rural Brodhead home.
She pointed to 150 small bags, each containing a wooden ornament and a battery-powered candle.
“Every resident will get one,” she said.
On Saturday, the girls delivered presents to senior homes in Footville, Orfordville and Albany.
On Christmas Eve, they will bring gifts to seniors in Brodhead. In all, they will visit seven assisted living and nursing homes.
Erin's little sister Tessa, 7, often goes with the teens.
“These girls have impacted the lives of all our residents in a very positive way,” said LouAnn Harmel, administrator of Collinwood Elderly Care in Orfordville and Brodhead and Valley Park in Albany.
“The residents beam with delight when the girls come to visit,” she said. “I think it's wonderful that such young hearts have such a caring spirit.”
Before buying gifts, the girls ask activity directors what items would be useful for residents.
“They have brought a variety of gift--from books to games to exercise videos,” Harmel said. “What these girls do at Christmas makes the entire year better because the items can be used all year long.”
Melissa Hubbard, activity director at Footville's St. Elizabeth Manor, said the girls bring smiles to everyone's faces.
“They brought us a whole big box full of items on our wish list,” Hubbard said. “They've got big hearts, and I hope they continue their endeavors to help people the rest of their lives.”
Both Sarah and Erin are juniors at Brodhead High School, where they are involved in student council and other activities. They also are active in their churches.
Sarah's favorite part of delivering gifts is watching people's faces light up.
“Some people's families do not visit,” she said. “So, it's nice to make them happy at Christmas.”
Sarah's mom, Lisa Strathman, is not surprised that the girls keep the annual effort alive.
“From the first year they did it, they really enjoyed it,” she said. “It only seemed natural that they would keep doing it.”
Erin's mom, Amanda Kloepping, call the girls “good kids with good hearts.”
Their spirit touches others who want to help. The husband of a nursing home resident made more than 200 wooden ornaments this year for the girls to pass out as gifts.
Both girls plan on continuing the giving tradition next year.
Their reasons come from the heart.
“Senior citizens in our community don't get much recognition,” Erin said. “From a Christian point of view, it is cool to spread the light.”