CRANFORD – Last month, Santa made his annual delivery of toys donated by the students of the Orange Avenue School in Cranford to the young children and students of the Cerebral Palsy League (CPL), also in Cranford. Yet it was the efforts of those who facilitate the annual event behind the scenes that played an equally important role in bringing smiles and developmental opportunities to nearly 250 children with developmental disabilities.
For the sixth year Orange Avenue students donated gifts to the children of the CPL’s Kaleidoscope Early Intervention program, which serves children from birth to 3 years old, along with their families. This year the program was expanded to include presents for students of the CPL’s Jardine Academy, which serves children aged 3-21.
The annual program, named Kaleidoscope of Hope, entails students being assigned specific children of the CPL programs. Key to the success of the program each year is matching the gifts with CPL children and students in a meaningful way, a challenging task performed by the League’s staff.
“By carefully matching the gifts we receive from the Orange Avenue students with our children based on gender, age and – perhaps most importantly – developmental needs, our staff is able to maximize the positive impact of those gifts,” said Debra Wolfel, executive director of the CPL. “While the spirit of giving on the part of the Orange Avenue students is overwhelming, the impact is even greater than they realize.”
This year students donated more than 750 gifts to CPL children and their families.
Kaleidoscope of Hope was the idea of Karen DiGiovanni, mother of two current Orange Avenue students and a longtime supporter of Cranford schools. Six years ago she approached Maria Cassella, director of the Kaleidoscope program, about arranging the program. Each year DiGiovanni and her husband, Tony, launch the effort by creating a giant grid supplied by Cassella containing the age and gender of each of the CPL children to receive a gift.
Next Brian Gilroy, student assistance counselor at Orange Avenue, starts spreading the word to the students about the gift drive – sending home fliers, hanging posters and enlisting the help of the student Peer Leadership Program. The school’s students have come to expect the annual event and look forward to participating, according to Gilroy.
“A culture of giving takes over,” Gilroy said.
On delivery day – when CPL personnel arrive to collect the gifts – Orange Avenue students line up and walk the many presents outside to waiting busses.
As much as the Orange Avenue students enjoy building the Kaleidoscope of Hope pile and the pageantry of the event, the importance of what they are doing is not lost on them.
“I (was assigned) a 4-year old girl and I got her play doh because I love play doh,” said Jordan Hooey, a seventh-grader at Orange Avenue.
The spirit of giving also unites the students, according to Elizabeth Wujtowicz, also a seventh-grader.
“It brings together the school as a team,” she said. “We all get to help.”
Those behind the scenes help, as well, such as the DiGiovannis and the families of the children donating gifts. Karen DiGiovanni said she has seen this spirit of giving never flounder throughout Cranford.
“You find that in Cranford the community is really supportive,” she said. “It’s been a difficult time economically for everyone yet we still have gifts for all the children.”
The students of the Orange Avenue Elementary School in Cranford recently donated more than 750 gifts for the children of the Kaleidoscope Early Intervention Program and the Jardine Academy at the Cerebral Palsy League, also located in Cranford. Kneeling before the pile of gifts are (left to right): Maria Cassella, director of the Kaleidoscope program, and students Jordan Hooey and Elizabeth Wujtowicz. (Photo courtesy of the Cerebral Palsy League)
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