Being a member of the United States Military is difficult, especially during the holiday season. For families that are part of the Exceptional Military Families Program (EMFP), the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) hosts an incredible event each December aimed at brightening the lives families with special needs children: the Magical Holiday Party. A-1 Self Storage is proud to sponsor this two-day event.
In past years, A-1 Self Storage supported the ASYMCA’s Military Family Toy Program as well as the Christmas You Missed Event. More than 2,476 children received presents from the Military Family Toy Program in 2017 alone according to Tim Ney, Executive Director of the ASYMCA since 2012.
“When I arrived, there were so many programs and services it was confusing,” Ney said. “In 2012 we really changed a lot of things. We discontinued a lot of programs, services, and events that didn’t make a strong impact or didn’t make the best use of our donor dollars. We wanted to focus on what military members and their families really need.”
Ney said that by conducting regular surveys with its members, the ASYMCA is able to test their assumptions when it comes to programming and make corrections when needed. This ensures that the programs in which the ASYMCA invests are both in-demand, and highly effective. The Magical Holiday Party continues to be one of the most popular events coordinated by the ASYMCA.
“I love being a non-profit that can show the numbers and literally show the donor the real change we are making. I think A-1 Self Storage, the Caster family, they can see that and appreciate it as well,” Ney said.
Before the Magical Holiday Party, volunteers reach out to every EFMP family and compile a list of toys they would like to give to their children. Donors then purchase the specific toys on the list, wrap them, and take them to the event. Volunteers dressed as Santa and his elves then make sure every child receives the toy they ask for.
The event itself consists of arts, crafts, food, and family in addition to presents. According to Ney, the event touches the hearts of not just the families, but the volunteers.
“You have to have so much respect for these families because the children are so beautiful and incredible. It’s a little harder to take care of these children, because they have special needs.” Ney said. “It’s just so cool. Sometimes the orders are tough to fill, but we do our best.”
Daniel Zeller, volunteer manager at the Navy Medical Center San Diego, says that in addition to EFMP families, volunteers also devote time and resources to make sure every child in a military family has a holiday to remember. During the second day of the event last year, Zeller said that approximately 6,600 toys were given to 1,100 families.
“I had 70 volunteers come in on Tuesday and sort the toys and set up the chapel as a little store, so the parents came in without the kids and were able to select toys for the children,” Zeller said. “We made it a point that the parents could take those toys home and say ‘This was from Santa’ or ‘This was from Mommy and Daddy.’”
With more than 450 bicycles donated to the event, volunteers spent two whole days assembling the bicycles. “Over those three days I think I had about 135 volunteers helping out with the event,” Zeller said. “Events like the Magical Holiday Party are almost completely volunteer run. The volunteers are the ones who decorate the chapel, they escort the families, they run the arts and crafts and activities.”
Last year, in addition to serving more than 150 EMFP families, ASYMCA volunteers provided help to more than 66,000 members of the military and their families. This figure is all the more incredible knowing that there are only 22 full time staff.
“The real people who deserve the credit for what we do is our front line staff, our volunteers, and our donors. We could not do what we do in any way, shape or form without the Caster Family, without A-1 Self Storage, and people like them who really step up,” Ney said. “Talk about a really humbling moment for me. Supporters like A-1, they’ve supported us for many, many years. It’s humbling to know they have our back while we carry out our mission here providing programs and services.”
Thank you to all of the staff and volunteers at the ASYMCA who work every day to support our men and women in uniform as well as their families. We can’t wait to attend this year’s Magical Holiday Party and see all of the smiling faces!
If you would like to donate time, resources or talent to the ASYMCA, you can find information online at www.asysd.org.