Huntington Middle School students have been flocking to local department stores over the past couple weeks, but with motives other than stocking their own closets or checking off names from their personal gift lists.
These young people are buying with a higher purpose as part of a program that began before they even appeared on the planet. Though lacking an official name, hundreds of current and former students know exactly what is meant when the words ‘Target Trip’ are sounded.
Also known as ‘Adopt-A-Family,’ it’s the brainchild of Huntington Middle School teachers Robbin Nordsten and Karla Domier, who 16 years ago were looking for a way to get their 8th grade students to “give back.” They came up with the idea of “adopting” terminally ill children at County USC Hospital and purchasing gifts for what is often the recipients’ final Christmas. Since its inception, more than 2,500 students have participated in the give-back program, including 257 currently. Nordsten said that many former students will contact her years later to stay involved.
This year, each of the 10 eighth grade English classes have adopted five children, bringing the total to 50 children who will be served.
Each year, the teachers ask the hospital for wish lists from the students and purchase the items requested by the children. Students select the child for whom they would like to shop and decide how much they donate for each child ($40 per shopper was the going rate this year). Karla and Steve Domier deliver the presents to the hospital on Christmas Eve. Doctors and nurses place the gifts under the children’s hospital beds during the night and the patients awake to gifts from real-life Santas. Each child receives the equivalent of two large garbage bags full of custom-selected presents on Christmas morning.
“It is an evening where adults ask our students what they are doing, and how they, too, can get involved,” said Nordsten. “It is an evening where students work collaboratively to accomplish a single goal. It is an evening where our students give of their hearts and time. And it is an inspiring evening that brings a tear to the eyes of their teachers.”
Nordsten said the act of kindness has made a lasting impression on many students, present and past.
“Former students will write and ask when the ‘Target trip’ is,” said Nordsten. “Many times, they will meet us there to shop with our students, or ‘give back’ on their own.”
Several HMS families have branched out and adopted children on their own.
“Karla, Jenna [Bruner, Norden’s assistant] and I all agree that it is truly one of the highlights of the season,” Nordsten said. “We remind students to think of the joy they have brought to someone else by giving of their time and heart. My prayer is that my students will learn to do this on their own and carry these memories with them each time they give back. It is the beginning of their life and we hope we are helping kids see the bigger picture. We believe we are educating the whole child. It is something we take very seriously.”