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Handing out holiday cheer

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After months of fundraising, the New Horizons Club will be bringing personalized gifts to the foster kids at the New Horizons Ranch this Christmas season.
The students involved in the club split into teams and become responsible for one foster child’s presents. Once they are assigned their kids, the teams are given clothing sizes as well as a list of gifts that the kids have personally asked for.

“It’s one thing buying presents and actually sending it off to kids,” Senior Chase Barnes, one of the club’s presidents, said. “But being able to go and celebrate Christmas with them and spend time with them is a whole different feeling.”

Gift requests can vary from Pokemon cards to drones to clothing items.

On Dec. 16, the students will take a three hour road trip to the New Horizons home in Goldthwaite. Once they arrive, the kids open their gifts up with their team. Not only do the students attend this event, Santa Claus also comes along to keep the kids’ spirits high.

“You get to see these kids faces light up as soon as they open the presents,” Senior Agat Pugazhendi, another one of the club’s presidents, said. “It’s amazing.”

AP Psychology teacher Amanda Vara recently took over the club due to the retirement of previous advisor and Physics teacher, Sohail Khan. When Khan was the advisor, his classes were in charge of the New Horizons Christmas plans. Vara was a student in Khan’s Physics class years ago and remembers preparing for the event. When he announced his retirement, he offered the position to Vara.

As the advisor, she signs papers that the club needs to get approved for fundraisers and guides them to a successful year. “I’m just very proud to see how these young people can really just take something that’s important to them and go with it,” Vara said. Pugazhendi communicates with the New Horizons Ranch to plan the holiday trip. The New Horizons Homes are for kids that have been taken out of the most abusive and dangerous home situations. Since these can be severe cases, the Ranch provides treatment programs that help the kids with personal issues through therapy and exercises.

“They were neglected. They weren’t loved. They weren’t cared for,” Barnes said. Without assistance from organizations like the New Horizons Club, the foster kids would rarely receive presents. Vara said gifts bring the kids holiday cheer, while they are going through a really rough time.

“It’s a neat day to be able to spend time with them,” Vara said. “It’s really eye opening for our students to see what other people are going through.” Vara remembers one year when she was in the club. They only had one week until they left to see the kids, and last minute, the home took in two more young kids. Despite the rush, Vara was determined to make sure those kids would still receive the Christmas they deserved.

“I got just a little taste of the chaos that these kids are going through day to day, hour by hour,” Vara said. “I only had to feel it for four hours.”

Getting to see the faces of the foster kids light up when the students arrive with all their presents is something Pugazhendi says will stay with the members of the club for years. “My motivation to do this is to give these kids a little bit of hope,” Pugazhendi said. “When everything seems lost for them.” While the students can’t put themselves in the foster kids’ shoes, this experience is all about making the kids’ holiday the best it can possible be.

“It really makes you look at Marcus in a different way, seeing all of these people that want to help,” Barnes said. “It’s really something special.”

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Handing out holiday cheer