Exchange Club, MSPCC makes holidays brighter for children
Date: 12/8/2010Dec. 8, 2010
By Mike Briotta
SPRINGFIELD -- About 300 foster and adopted children and families enjoyed a holiday party at the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, courtesy of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) and the Springfield Exchange Club.
The event brought holiday cheer to children who have been the victims of abuse and neglect. Amenities included free food, live entertainment, tours of the basketball facility and presents from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Allison Weissman, a representative of the MSPCC's Kids Net program and member of the Exchange Club, was an organizer of the holiday party.
"The Exchange Club has been holding a holiday party for the last six years with Kids Net," Weissman said. "The Basketball Hall of Fame has been phenomenal for us. Subway has also been very generous, offering free sandwiches [for those in attendance]. Everyone who donated to this event has been amazing; We probably had about 500 donated gifts."
All gifts that were not distributed Saturday were given to foster and adoptive families at the Grange in Greenfield on Sunday and a following event in Williamsburg on Wednesday, according to Weissman.
Entertainment was also provided by the Over The Top dance troupe, a nonprofit group that teaches dance to Springfield Public Schools students. The dance organization is run by Allison and George Gouzounis.
"It's a nonprofit that goes into the public schools and teaches dancing to young students," Weissman explained. "They've been around for five years, and we've worked with them for five years straight." The group showcased a wide array of dance moves, including swing dance, Latin, hip-hop and a Hawaiian Christmas song.
While Weissman operates through a state contract with the Department of Children and Families, her heading up the holiday party is a labor of love.
"This isn't really part of our contract," she said. "I just do this because I love our families. We expect at least 300 children and families to be here today. Last year, we only had about 200 people come out. The weather may have been a factor. There was a storm expected last year. This year, we had a pretty nice day for it. People came from all over to enjoy this party."
MSPCC serves multicultural children and families across Massachusetts with a range of services designed to respond to the individual needs of young people and their families. Services are provided both in the home and through 25 community-based locations across the Commonwealth.
Dr. Bobbie Rennix, acting president of the Springfield Exchange Club, said she hopes the 2010 holiday party will attract new members and educate the public about the club's contributions to the community.
"When I recently went to a national convention for the Exchange Club, I realized that we have to get ourselves out there, to let people know what we are doing," Rennix said. "I want to make sure the club gets the recognition. People should know about this event. We're doing such wonderful and positive things for children."
Rennix continued, "If people knew what we were doing, we would probably get more members. It's all about the 'f' word: fun!" Rennix has been acting president of the club for the past month. She's been a participating club member since 2005.
"Anyone can join," she said. "Business people; anyone who has time. We do have member dues that go toward the club, but 100 percent of the money we raise through donations goes back to the community. There are no administrative fees or other overhead costs."
The event especially hit home for Rennix, who has also been a foster parent. "I had a foster child for seven years," she said. "I didn't treat her any differently than my other children. She was a joy to have. Many of these children have been abused or neglected. My foster child was the same way. She didn't know anything about the world when we got her. She had never seen a restaurant menu or knew what a hotel was. If we can create some calm and happiness in the lives of children who have been exposed to abuse and neglect, then our contributions will not be in vain."
The Exchange Club of Springfield is an organization for the prevention of child abuse and youth and community service. It is the oldest such club in New England and will be celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2011. Their contributions in this area include the original train in Forest Park, which was purchased and donated to the Forest Park Zoo and a massive dinosaur statue at the Springfield Science Museum.