Santa's Workshop Big Hit at Baylor

Dec. 6, 2000

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Hundreds of Waco-area preschoolers filled up Russell Gymnasium on the Baylor University campus Friday, Dec. 1, for Santa's Workshop, the annual holiday event sponsored by the Baylor office of student activities, staff council and ARAMARK.

Students ages 3 to 5 were served hot dogs with all the trimmings by Baylor students and staff, as well as student-athletes from various scholarship sports. Santa and Mrs. Claus also appeared to visit with the children, hand out gifts and present the children with a goodie bag, including an apple, orange, candy, toothbrush and toothpaste.

The gifts for the children were donated by Baylor faculty and staff, while student volunteers, coordinated through the office of student activities, spent a day wrapping about 800 toys. But Santa's Workshop provided more than just presents for the children and for the students who volunteer to help, said Jessica Truglio, Baylor's community service coordinator.

"One of the preschool workers told me that it's so important for these kids to be able to come on the Baylor campus and not only to know that other people care about them, but also know that a place like Baylor is attainable to them," she said.

Among the most enthusiastic, and visible, volunteers are Baylor student-athletes, who as a group participated in Santa's Workshop for the fifth year.

"We are very fortunate to have athletes who really want to participate in this event and who really get behind it," said Dee Ann Bell, assistant athletic marketing director and coordinator of the B.U.I.L.D. (Bears United in Life Development) program. "Even if they have classes, they come for 30 minutes at a time just to make sure that these kids know we care about them and want to be involved with them."

Baylor women's basketball players Hilary Akromis and Monica Arnold, golfers Tara Bateman and Michaelyn Morgan, tennis player Mark Williams and baseball player Chris Durbin were among the athletes who enjoyed serving the children lunch and handing out gifts. But they also knew that the children were watching them closely for another reason.

"You work very hard to get here and to have kids look at you and be so proud that you play basketball and want to be a part of it it's always nice," Akromis said. "It's always nice to give back to community. It makes you feel good."

"When I walked in here they said there's a basketball player and they all came and wanted to get autographs," Arnold said. "It just made me feel really good. To know that they know who I am really means something to me."

"You can see when they're this young that's when they start looking at people as role models and it's kind of cool," remarked Morgan, a freshman golfer participating for the first time in the event.

Williams and Bateman said they enjoy the interaction with the children and the chance to give back to the community.

"The community gives to us a lot so it's good that we can come see these young kids and make their day a bit happier and hand out the ice creams and see them when Santa Claus comes," said Williams.

"I really look forward to it," Bateman said. "The most exciting is when the little kids get their presents, and you see the look on their faces, the joy, the excitement. To do something like this really makes their day and it's fun to see that beam in their eyes."

Durbin, a sophomore ballplayer who delivered some clutch hits last season for the Bears, made his Santa's Workshop debut.

"I just wanted to come out and volunteer my time to help all these kids," Durbin said. "It means a lot to me to see their faces when I give them a Christmas gift. I know how I feel when people give me gifts and it makes me happy to give that back to someone."

Even coaches, like Baylor assistant baseball coach Steve "Hoot" Johnigan, see the benefits of students and student-athletes helping children and others in the community.

"This is a great opportunity for them to realize just how fortunate they are," he said. "This is probably for some of these kids the only Christmas they're going to have. It really brings life into the proper perspective for them, and it really touches their lives more so than these kids. The stories I hear every year after our players come here are just tremendous."

Baylor staff council members are responsible for much of the work, the donations, planning and set-up for the event, one that evoked memories for René Maciel, student services director at Truett Seminary.

"This reminds me of the days I was administrator of the Baptist Children's Home before I came back to Baylor and so those six years I was taking care of kids," he recalled. "It was a wonderful experience and something like this reminds me a lot of being back at the children's home."

Seeing the children's faces light up made the event even more special, said Rona Stefka, administrative associate in health, human performance and recreation and staff council coordinator for Santa's Workshop.

"It just makes you feel so good," she said. "They're all hugging you and excited, so it makes you feel really good to be able to help out."

Even Santa and Mrs. Claus had a wonderful time.

"We're just thrilled that we could come and see such happy children and gift them a wonderful gift and send off to the Christmas holidays.

"We love Baylor and we love coming back here every year to start off the Christmas season right," Santa said.

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