St Vincent De Paul brings smiles to Federal Way students with yearly tradition

St Vincent De Paul eighth-graders (pictured) recently helped special needs students from Federal Way Public Schools get their Christmas shopping done early at Target as part of an annual tradition.   - Contributed
St Vincent De Paul eighth-graders (pictured) recently helped special needs students from Federal Way Public Schools get their Christmas shopping done early at Target as part of an annual tradition.
— image credit: Contributed

Local students from St Vincent De Paul (SVDP) and Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) came together recently for a yearly tradition that SVDP has been performing for close to two decades now, according to the event’s organizer, SVDP teacher Kathy Vance.

The event brings together eighth-graders from SVDP and special needs students from FWPS, with the SVDP students helping the special needs students get their Christmas shopping done early.

“I have been bringing our eighth-graders each year to Target for at least the last 20 years,” Vance wrote in an email to the The Mirror. “I can’t get over that it has been that long.”

Vance wrote the service project is one that her students happily look forward to during the holiday season.

“This is an eagerly awaited service project, one that our students ask about each year….Our eighth graders serve as (the special needs students’) personal shoppers, accompanying them around the store, helping them find the perfect gifts for their families, all the while being mindful of helping the shoppers stay within their individual budgets,” Vance shared.

She writes that the experience is valuable for all involved. While there may be obstacles in communication or other issues, both the SVDP students and the older special needs students are able to find common ground by the time all is said and done, Vance noted.

“They may discover that they share the same taste in music, clothing or video games. By the end of the two hours, kids on both sides who may have started out feeling shy and awkward are usually smiling and laughing together,” she wrote.

Vance indicated that it “takes many hands to make this all work.” Perhaps one of the most integral parts of the service project is the students’ chance to have a photo taken with Santa. This role has been performed by Joe Penwell for years, according to Vance, who described Penwell as a “selfless individual who gives and gives and gives.”

Target also helps out, providing an employee to play an elf for the Santa pictures, and also wrapping and tagging the gifts for the students at no extra cost. Vance’s fellow teacher at SVDP, Marie Lilley, has been an integral part of this event as well, Vance shared.

All in all, Vance writes that this yearly tradition is something that has a positive impact for all involved.

“Each and every year, our kids go over and above, leaping out of their comfort zones to try to assure that our guests have the time of their lives. I am so proud of them, and humbled to be their teacher,” she writes. “I am also amazed by how trusting the special education teachers are, allowing our students to take their kids under their own wings, believing that our kids will take care of their loved ones. I say loved ones, because it is obvious that the Federal Way teachers care so much about their special charges.”


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