I remember my first Christmas: I was about 12 years old when, despite my family being Jewish and us having just celebrated eight nights of Chanukah, Santa Claus visited our home.

Jaclyn Rothenberg

My sister and I came downstairs to our family living room, tree-less and all, to find one present each placed under our fireplace. As I eagerly tore open my small square package, ripping each layer of wrapping paper as I did, my mother said that this year, Santa had made a stop at our house.

His gift to me was my very first CD-ROM: Donna Lewis to be exact. I said “thank you” with a smile and never looked back.

This was an extra present, something beyond what I received for Chanukah. Perhaps I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was fortunate and blessed to have nine presents. Unlike so many millions of children in this world, I was lucky to enjoy the hallmarks of the holiday season.

Fast-forward four years: The very same woman who told me that “Saint Nick” had visited our home was now telling me to get involved in preparation for college. In my search to find the right effort to which to donate my time, I stumbled across an organization by the name of “Amy’s Party.”

That was the one. Indeed, after volunteering that year, I decided to spend the next two years committed to planning the 2012 edition of the Party and serving as a teen co-chair for the event.

About the Party

Now in its 18th year, Creating Connected Communities (CCC) – the organization behind Amy’s Party – solicits some 300 volunteers and provides for more than 700 underprivileged children and their families.

For the entire year prior to each iteration of the event, local teens help prepare and plan a carnival with prizes, craft project stations, pictures with Santa and a dance with a DJ.

Then, on the day of the event, both teenage and adult volunteers serve over 1,000 lunches and distribute over 2,000 brand-new gifts to the children, and through partnership with approximately 30 homeless shelters, foster care and refugee centers in Atlanta and in the end gives each individual child a meal and a toy to bring home.

And beyond that, CCC has recently expanded to include an opportunity through which teens participate in a yearlong Leadership Training Program. As part of this program, adult committee members mentor the teen committee members in non-profit work and community outreach, which allows the teens to form strong relationships with the community agencies whose clients attend the holiday party.

The teens also receive advocacy and awareness training about issues relating to homelessness, foster care, and refugee status.

The Point of Pitching In

Looking back, I realize today that my mother, the same woman who treated me to Donna Lewis when I was 12 and encouraged me to get involved at 16, gave me the best gift of all: the push to help others who are less fortunate than myself.

This year, the party will be held on Dec. 2 at The Defoor Centre. With the number of homeless children in the greater Atlanta area – each without the means to celebrate the holiday and receive a gift in celebration – I encourage you all to enjoy the act of giving.

BY JACLYN ROTHENBERG / For the Atlanta Jewish Times

Jaclyn Rothenberg works as an associate at SKDKnickerbocker in New York and volunteers for Creating Connected Communities.