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Prior to opening Christmas presents at Mooseheart’s Juniata Residence Home, 3-year-old Mooseheart resident Jacob enjoyed a pancake breakfast and got assistance in pouring syrup from Family Teacher Jenna.
Five-year-old Mooseheart resident Jasmine steadily worked her way through a Christmas gift bag filled with presents – stopping to admire each before moving to the next.
MOOSEHEART, IL Dec. 25 – There is always something peaceful about Mooseheart in the early hours of a winter morning. On Wednesday – Christmas morning – deer wandered the snowy campus, birds chirped and only the very occasional sound of a car driving the Child City's streets disturbed the peacefulness on a campus that usually hums with activity.
Christmas is a time when most of Mooseheart's 250 children return home to their guardians. But there are also always children who remain on-campus – and Mooseheart provides the same things at Christmas it does every other day of the year – a bed in which to sleep, food to eat and caring Family Teachers to help guide children through the day. On Wednesday morning, 3-year-old Jacob Murray, 4-year-old Cedan Echols and 5-year-old Jasmine Gage opened their presents in front of the Christmas tree in Juniata Residence Home.
"It's great having the kids here and being able to be like their parent and to see their faces when they get Christmas presents," Juniata Home Family Teacher Jenna Carpenter said. "It's really great and it's something I never thought I'd experience like we do here. Being able to have that experience and have that moment with the kids is a really great feeling."
There was abundant love at Juniata Home. In addition to Carpenter, Family Teachers Megan Williams and Brittany Leon watched the children open their presents and helped assemble toys after gifts were unwrapped.
The children were excited on Christmas morning. On waking up, they went to their stockings and emptied them. Those stockings then became socks the children wore most of the rest of the morning. Carpenter prepared a special breakfast of green and red pancakes, some in holiday shapes. There was even a moose-shaped pancake.
Following breakfast, the Juniata Home trio headed to the Christmas tree, which was packed underneath with presents. Carpenter dispensed the gifts one-by-one to the children, who ripped through wrapping paper, smiled and got excited about toys and gifts and then prepared to open the next gift. Inside were presents from Moose members and family members ranging from dolls and cars to a puppet dragon and a Cinderella horse carriage.
"They see a present and it's pure joy and excitement," Carpenter said. "Even if it isn't their most favorite thing in the world, it's still the idea that it's something from a package. The ripping of the paper and everything – it's just great."
Mooseheart Executive Director Gary Urwiler said that one of the things Mooseheart strives for at Christmas – and at all times of the year – is to provide the children a chance to have the same experiences all children have.
"Our children are no different than any others," Urwiler said. "They get to that tree, sneak to see what's underneath the tree and are as happy as can be with whatever's underneath that tree. With a child that age there's innocence. I think a lot of our staff get energized by the fact that we're establishing such a tradition with a child of that early an age."
Since Thanksgiving, a steady stream of presents has flowed from all corners of the United States, Canada and Great Britain toward Mooseheart as members open their hearts for the children whose care is paid for by their membership. While membership in the Moose fraternity helps ensure care of these children in-need – as well as care for the seniors living at Moosehaven in Florida – providing Christmas presents is something additional – and something that's never wavered since Mooseheart opened in 1913.
"The Moose members are seriously the most generous people," Carpenter – in her ninth year as a Family Teacher – said. "Each year I've been here, I've learned more and more by being able to visit Moose Lodges and going to Christmas parties. They give so much for the kids. They are constantly calling to ask us what the children need or what they want."
One of the incredible things about the support given by the Moose to Mooseheart's children is that most members have never met a Mooseheart child or visited the campus.
"Even though they haven't met them or don't really know them, they still feel like they're their children," Carpenter said. "These kids were able to have a fantastic Christmas because of all that they do."
Mooseheart formally celebrated its Centennial in August, but the December holidays bring a certain finality to the Centennial year. Within one week, the calendar turns to 2014, and one thing that will continue is the support the fraternity gives the children and the prospect of another Christmas with more presents in 365 days.
"It's such a blessing to be able to say 'now it's 101,'" Urwiler said. "My, how this year has gone. We've done a lot of things to celebrate and tried to allow a lot of people to see what we do each and every day to the children in our care. We've been blessed for 100 years. We've faced many challenges, but the Moose have always risen to the occasion to support our children. Christmas is one of those times of the year."