Photo courtesy of Gloria Houston.
For SkillsUSA members at New Madrid (Mo.) Technical Skills Center, the eagle is more than a majestic mascot; it represents noble ideals. One of the ways the school puts those ideals into action is through its annual “Eagle Christmas,” an event where SkillsUSA chapter members collaborate to support low-income children. As of this writing, the chapter is currently engaged in their latest Eagle Christmas event (the project began in 2018), but last year’s efforts earned them a designation as a gold-level “Chapter of Distinction,” an honor that’s part of SkillsUSA’s Chapter Excellence Program.
During the 2020-21 school year, nearly 50 chapter members took part in the event. Beginning in October, students presented a plan of action at a chapter meeting, established committees and assigned tasks to chapter members and staff. The social committee met with school counselors to make a list of local students lacking food and necessities. The public relations committee designed flyers for distribution to local businesses, posted information on social media sites and placed an ad in the local newspaper to inform the community about the effort. The community service committee held regular reviews to ensure goals were being met by providing checklists for each task.
The students’ passion inspired others, as school organizations, 145 sponsors and several business owners fulfilled every child’s need on the list. In total, 164 at-risk children received clothing, hygiene products, school supplies and holiday gifts. More than 300 families received holiday meal boxes provided by the local food bank and grocery stores.
Gloria Houston — the school’s healthcare teacher for the last four years and the chapter’s SkillsUSA advisor — explains: “Eagle Christmas is about showing strangers kindness and helping to ensure they have what they need to be ready for school. Students can’t learn if they are being bullied for not having clothes that fit properly or keep them warm. Students can’t learn if they don’t have the supplies necessary for school. Students can’t learn if they are hungry when they arrive or have been hungry all night. These are barriers that Eagle Christmas tears down. Strangers providing these items for kids they never even met! Kindness changes lives, one Eagle at a time!”
During the annual project, student demonstrate the SkillsUSA Framework Essential Element of “Planning, Organizing and Management” by their attention to detail, perseverance in completing tasks and ongoing prioritization to achieve the desired results. According to Houston, they also demonstrate the “Teamwork” Essential Element “by working with our culinary arts department, who prepares [a holiday] meal; the National Honor Society, who does a food drive to collect the food needed for the meal; and the National Honor Art Society, who makes customized Christmas coloring books for kids.” The chapter also works with the student council, other career and technical student organizations and many other administrative and staff members across the district.
“Eagle Christmas impacted me by giving me a chance to help people in need,” says senior Mary Craver. “There’s nothing more enjoyable then seeing the smiles of those kids when they get a present and the relief on the parents’ faces to see their kid happy. It truly is beautiful to experience.”
“When I adopted one of the children for Christmas, it impacted me by showing me that others don’t have what we often take for granted,” Houston says. “For instance, my child asked for a coat, and it was eye-opening to me that, instead of asking for toys, he asked for something he needed.”
Houston adds that the students apply professionalism and confidentiality while serving. “I’m impressed by the way they model generosity and cooperation with each other to help change lives,” she says.
Along with the gold-level Chapter of Distinction recognition, the project also earned the chapter a national spotlight as one of SkillsUSA’s top 24 “Models of Excellence” programs for 2021. Now, Houston and her students are focused on 2022. “We currently have 131 kids this year we are providing Christmas for,” she says. “We will also prepare a hot Christmas dinner for their families and present the gifts on December 16.”
To learn more about the amazing work all the 24 Models of Excellence chapters achieved during the 2020-21 school year, click here.