East students share holiday spirit, songs with community

East Elementary School students and music teacher Cindy Depenthal, center, sing Christmas carols Friday for residents of Adams Street Place. In addition to performing, students also passed out decorations they had made. About 40 kids participated in the annual East School community outreach program, which is made possible with help from the school’s business partner, First Christian Church.

East Elementary School students and music teacher Cindy Depenthal, center, sing Christmas carols Friday for residents of Adams Street Place. In addition to performing, students also passed out decorations they had made. About 40 kids participated in the annual East School community outreach program, which is made possible with help from the school’s business partner, First Christian Church. Photo by Kelley McCall.

Jeremiah Rosenberg announced “they’re here” as he led the line of East Elementary School students into the room where his fellow clients at the Gibbs Center for Independence were eagerly awaiting the children’s arrival.

Rosenberg, who is both a client at and the unofficial greeter for the United Cerebral Palsy Heartland facility, then escorted Cindy Depenthal, the East music teacher, who brought her acoustic guitar for accompaniment.

“He greets everybody with an enthusiastic smile,” said Kristen Stratman, administrative assistant.

In East School T-shirts and red and white elf hats, about 40 students — two selected from each classroom — sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells” as client Glenn Strickland danced along.

Jim Clark, another client, laughed, sang along and pretended to look up as the carolers sang “Up on the Housetop,” and Rosenberg threw in a jolly “Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas.”

Fifth-grader Rickeya Hoskin snapped pictures of the group in between singing herself.

“I was happy to be picked to take pictures of the kids singing,” Hoskin said.

After singing, the students gave handmade ornaments and lapel pins to each client and staff member at the Gibbs Center. They did the same at several other care facilities, businesses and offices around town Friday.

“We really appreciate everybody who volunteers and helps us celebrate the holiday season,” Stratman said. “They make their holiday season that much better.”

For client Roberta Reven, the ornaments were beautiful and she was excited to hang them on her tree, she said.

Second-grader Domenic King said he enjoyed singing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” because of the line “we won’t leave until we get some pudding,” King said. “I hope they liked our singing.”

Other groups sing and bring gifts to the clients during the holidays, Stratman said.

“Some people have a hard time realizing the people who come here do know what Christmas is,” Stratman said. “We do a lot of education about the deep-down meaning of Christmas.

“They know it’s not about presents, but about family and the Lord, about togetherness and being thankful for what we have.”

The clients know visitors will be coming when the Christmas tree and decorations go up after Thanksgiving, Stratman said.

“Everybody’s a little happier and a little more excited,” Stratman said. “This can be a stressful environment. But to have them happier; they brighten your day.”

When the young students, like from East School, come over, their expressions are unconditional, she said.

“They don’t see them as different,” Stratman said. “It’s good for kids to meet people with special needs; they’re not fazed by it.”

This is the ninth year for East School to share music with the community at the holidays, said librarian Tonya Ellis.

“It’s one of those experiences you can appreciate afterwards,” Ellis said. “You see the expression from the person’s face when you give them a card or gift.”

The newly implemented Cole County Characterplus program designated December’s trait as compassion/kindness.

Although teachers can read books to students and talk to them about the character traits, “this is the best way to get that experience, to connect with what that means,” Ellis said.

And introducing students to people from other walks of life is a good experience, too, she said.

“Whatever fear or apprehension they might have melts away when they’re giving and caring, when they pass out the (ornaments),” Ellis said “That definitely goes along with compassion and kindness.”

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