BRIGHTON — Pemayetv Emahakv students learned the real meaning of Christmas Dec. 8 when kids from the Real Life Children’s Ranch in Okeechobee visited the Charter School for a night of fellowship and holiday cheer.
“It is just a small way we can give back,” said Lewis Gopher, Parent Teacher Student Organization president. “We want to build a relationship that can grow so in the future we can be productive.”
Over the past several holiday seasons, PECS alternated between giving back to the Real Life Children’s Ranch – an organization that provides a loving, Christian environment for abused or abandoned children – and Toys for Tots – a program started by the U.S. Marine Corps that delivers a message of hope through a new present at Christmas to less-fortunate children.
Michele Thomas, administrative assistant at PECS, said they invited the Real Life Children’s Ranch to the school last year to host a culture exchange and to allow students to meet the children they were helping.
With the success of the event, PECS asked them back to the reservation, starting a new tradition and another way to teach the meaning of giving to Tribal youth.
“When we were growing up we were always on the receiving side and now we are able to be on the giving side,” Thomas said. “And the students really enjoy it.”
PECS students anxiously lined the school’s breezeway and waved as the vans shuttling children arrived. The two groups of children took off to the playground and decorated culture camp.
Tribal students helped the younger children from the Ranch up and down the slides, played tetherball and climbed to the top of the rock wall together.
“Some of them [Tribal students] would say, ‘I played football with that kid. I had no clue they didn’t have a mom or a dad or that they lived in a group home,’” Thomas said. “So it really hit home and with the message that we wanted to send, that we were helping children that didn’t fit the mold of some of the families that our kids had or the things that they had.”
While on the playground, Fire Rescue arrived with a special visitor.
“So we’re having this great time and they hear the sirens,” said Mark Mayers, of the Real Life Children’s Ranch. “They were a little apprehensive at first obviously because you know what that [sirens] means, but when they saw that it was Santa and that he would come and just spend time with them and greet them, it just really helps brighten their hearts and you can see it in their smiles and their eyes.”
Tribal grades then took turns singing Christmas carols in Creek.
They entertained the children with classics, such as “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” and “Jingle Bells,” and they included the ever-popular song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.”
Students and guests shared a traditional Seminole meal of Indian tacos before Santa handed out presents.
PECS students also made their guests goodie bags complete with trinkets and beaded Seminole necklaces.
The children from the Real Life Children’s Ranch left filled with joy but not before doling out hugs and appreciation.
“They have been put down most of their life, told what they can’t do, why they can’t do it, how bad they are, minimizing their strengths,” Mayers said. “So the idea that somebody would do this just for them is almost memorizing. We are just so thankful.”