BRIGHTON — A Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School Christmas tradition played out Dec. 6 as 24 kids from the Real Life Children’s Ranch in Okeechobee spent an evening enjoying Christmas carols sung in Creek, games, Indian Tacos and quality time with Santa.
The annual gathering at PECS began about four years ago. Students had been delivering gifts to the group foster home for a few years when the administration invited the children to school for a traditional Seminole celebration.
“Delivering the gifts was eye-opening and emotional for the students,” said PECS Principal Brian Greseth. “They learned Christmas isn’t always wonderful for everyone.”
Founded in 1957, the non-profit Real Life Children’s Ranch is a 30-acre, faith-based ministry that offers four family-style group foster homes for children from infants to age 20. House parents live in the homes full time, which house six boys or six girls each. The goal is to offer children a safe and nurturing home until they can be reunited with their families or placed with new families for adoption. The average stay is about a year.
“This is so special because the students are reaching out to our kids,” said Mark Mayers, the Ranch’s executive director. “This time of year can be difficult, so this really brightens their holidays. Food, fun and fellowship mean a lot. I can’t tell you how much the kids enjoy this; every year they leave beaming.”
Before the skies opened up and stormy weather rolled in, the students and children played together on the school’s playground in a mad dash to beat the rain. Their abundant energy burned up, the group then waited for Santa, who arrived in a Seminole fire engine instead of his usual sleigh.
After plenty of smiles and hugs, the group adjourned to the cafeteria where students caroled for their guests before they all feasted on Indian Tacos and other treats.
“It means a lot to the school to give these kids a chance to have a good time,” said student government chairman Heath Lawrence, 13. “It’s good to see everyone in the happy-go-lucky Christmas spirit.”
The impact of the evening wasn’t lost on the students.
“It’s great to come together and spend time with each other like a family,” said Tammy Martinez, 12. “Helping them and caring for them makes me feel great.”