It's not just Santa Claus whose job satisfaction comes from seeing children's eyes light up with excitement.
Jeannette Famoso-Ardinger coordinates the Carson City School District's Kids in Transition program and is the district's homeless advocate. When kids come to her Clothes Closet office in search of new or used clothing, she is gratified to see what a colorful top or new pair of boots can do to boost the esteem and spirits of parent and child.
Jeannette serves 392 students who are qualified as homeless, which is defined by the federal government as "not at a fixed structure." That's 4.7 percent of district students. Not all are living on the street, but all are in transition, for example living in motels, with no permanent place to call home.
Jeanette receives referrals from school counselors. She calls the family to offer assistance, and parents and children set a time to try on clothes in her Musser Street office, which doubles as a giant walk-in closet.
This time of year, she's especially busy, and she could use some help from those of you who are looking for ways to spread good cheer during the holidays.
She's racing to raise enough funds for the Dec. 14 "Christmas With A Cop." Kids and cops are matched for a day of shopping at Wal-Mart. It's a chance for students to find holiday gifts for their families and themselves with the help of a police or volunteer escort. She needs donations of Wal-Mart gift cards and cash from individuals and organizations.
With eight brothers and sisters, she wore her share of hand-me-downs. "But no matter what, my mom made sure we had new shoes every season," says Jeannette. "Used shoes just don't fit right."
Colder weather means that warm coats and new shoes and boots that stand up to winter are in demand for girls and boys of all sizes, from kindergarten to men's size 12. New socks and underwear are always needed (teenage boys wear boxers these days.) And it's important that clothes be stylish, especially for self-conscious middle and high school students.
Why so many kids in transition? Jeannette attributes it to the high cost of rental housing in Carson City. It is especially difficult for families on the edge to come up with housing and utility deposits, in addition to rent. Jeannette refers families to local and state agencies that can help, and works closely with other social service agencies in the community.
Jeannette also fills the food gaps. Students eat breakfast and lunch at school, but on weekends, food is harder to come by. Jeannette stockpiles backpack food - healthy snack foods individually packaged especially to meet the needs of hungry teens on the move. She appreciates donations of nuts, hot chocolate, oatmeal, single-serving soups, granola bars, canned fruit and tuna, and instant mac-and-cheese.
If you are looking for a way to make a difference this holiday season for vulnerable children in our community, consider making a donation of clothing, food, gift card or cash to the Kids in Transition program. All donations are tax deductible, and you'll get to meet the dynamic compassionate woman whose eyes sparkle like Santa when she talks about why she likes her job.
Contact Jeannette at 283-1526 to donate to the Kids in Transition Program.
• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.