Before Sue Braaten began to host a Christmas party for foster children, she was an advocate for their rights.
As she worked as a guardian for the Court Appointed Special Advocate program, she heard some foster children only got phone cards for Christmas. She thought about what it must be like to go back to school and hear about the popular new toys their friends received.
“Oh my goodness, what would we do if our kids got phone cards for Christmas?” Braaten recalled thinking.
That’s why children get what their peers get for Christmas during the annual Christmas party at the Best Western Wesley Inn, where Braaten is the owner and operator. The party is a partnership with the Pierce County Alliance.
The point is not to splurge for them, but to make sure foster children don’t feel different when it comes to Christmas presents, Braaten said. After all, their lives are already different enough, she said.
One year, when laptops were the gift provided, there were tears all around, said Kathy Heerema, the sales manager at the hotel. Gifts such as Kindles, iPods and computers are meant to grow with the children, she said.
“(It) helps them be normal when they’re not in a normal situation,” she said.
At the Christmas party, 33 foster children plus foster parents and their children danced, ate and opened gifts. It’s a dinner for about 75 dressed-up attendees, Braaten said.
This year, Rhubarb the Reindeer showed up, and there was face painting, balloon animals and the hokey pokey.
“We try to make it a big deal,” Heerema said.
This is the eighth year for the party, but Braaten has been working as a guardian for the past 20.
“Once you start, it’s pretty hard to let it go,” she said.
Her job as a guardian is to advocate for the children’s interests, not those of attorneys for parents or the state, she said.
To get involved, the community can gear up for next year, Braaten said. Just ask to be a part of the fun, and Braaten will contact volunteers to shop, set up and organize. The gifts, the dancing and “seeing (the children’s) total joy” is a representation of the “true meaning of Christmas,” Braaten said.
“I think it brings people together to do something fun for one night,” Heerema said. “I think it just changes the kids.”Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.