The Best Gift Parents Can Give

This holiday season, Guin and Nate are giving a very special present to their baby and Guin’s two older children, who they raise together: themselves.


It used to be that this young couple from rural western Washington state wouldn’t spend much time with the kids. They would hide in their room with the door locked, each of them says.


“We’d come out to give them their food or whatever, and then we’d just tell them to go play,” says Guin, 24. “We just shooed them on pretty much. That’s what my parents did to us, and that’s what hurt so bad. That’s what I never wanted to do, but that’s what we ended up doing anyways.”


Inside the locked room, Guin and Nate would do drugs. That was their escape, their means to cope. It was a strategy they both learned early in life.


“My parents were always gone, or when they were home, they were loaded,” says Guin. “So, we didn’t have bonding time, unless it was a loaded time. Like they were loaded, or just being crazy.”


Nate, 21, says his mom was also always gone or drinking, and that his older brother was the only father figure he ever knew. Together they raised their younger brother. Holidays were especially tough.


“There were presents under the tree and everything, but there weren’t any parents around. It was just my two brothers,” he says. “It was hard.”


As Guin and Nate struggled with their pasts and trying to scrape together a living and a future, they turned to drugs and then each other for comfort. But when the two older kids, 3 and 7, got taken away by the state temporarily last year, they knew something had to change.


Getting clean wasn’t easy, but in some ways the regimented recovery program made the path clearer than knowing how to become a good parent — something they desperately want. They say having Hollie in their lives is making a huge difference.


As a home visitor in Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success program, Hollie visits with pregnant mothers and families of babies and toddlers in economically depressed communities. The idea is to teach parents to be their child’s first teacher through reading, talking, singing and playing — and to serve as a resource and support for families struggling with many different challenges.


“If Hollie wasn’t here every week helping us with our daughter, I don’t think that we’d be improving so much with our child. She’s helped us be better parents,” says Guin. “I’m grateful for Hollie all the time. Books, man, she brings so many books. My kids are so grateful for the books.”


mother and child


Children growing up in poverty tend to fall developmentally behind other children long before they ever reach school. Then they struggle to catch up and many never do, making it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, despite the many risk factors their families face, more than 80 percent of the children in Save the Children’s program go on to score at or above the national norm on pre-literacy tests.


Guin and Nate’s baby is only seven months old, but Guin can already see how she’s ahead of where her older kids were at that age. She started rolling over, sitting up, crawling and making her first word sounds much sooner. All the floor time, reading, talking and playing is really working, Guin says.


floor time

And, she says, the bond she’s building with her baby is so much stronger from the very beginning.


“Hollie has told us that face-to-face play is really important at this age, because they’re learning facial expressions and feelings and all that stuff,” Guin says. “Babies have the coolest facial expressions. They have happy in their eyes is what I say. Happy eyes. I love that.”


“I think I beat you in facial expressions,” Nate cuts in.


“Yes, he has,” says Guin. They laugh and then reflect on what lies ahead.


“Our goal is to make life better for them,” Guin says.


“Hopefully, we’re able to achieve that for them,” says Nate. “It’s hard, but we’re getting through it.”


“It’ll all be worth it in the end,” says Guin.


I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these young parents to turn their lives around, given the rough start in life they both had. It’s wonderful to see the pride Guin and Nate are taking in their parenting and to see their children get the loving attention they themselves missed.


This holiday season, I’m grateful for the amazing home visitors like Hollie, who are helping parents be the best they can be.


Together with Save the Children, JOHNSON’S® is bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.


This holiday season, if you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and donate a baby photo using #SoMuchMore, JOHNSON’S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.


This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Save the Children Supporters Draw Community Together in Annual Sale

Byron_KittleByron Kittle, Save the Children Intern

Westport, CT

May 14, 2013

Every inch of the Daum
family’s lawn and driveway in Larchmont, N.Y., was stacked with a
treasure-trove of clothes, electronics, furniture and books this past Sunday.
At first glance, the tag sale may seem like any other large sale of its kind – well-stocked
and well organized – but the numbers tell a different story, one of commitment
and community.

The family has held the tag
sale every year since 2000, and its proceeds, which were nearing $145,000 as of
Sunday, have all gone to Save the Children. The family tradition stems from a
bat mitzvah donation.

“We first became
involved with Save the Children when my eldest daughter Carly chose to donate
her bat mitzvah gifts to Save the Children’s education programming in rural
Appalachia,” said Michelle Daum. “Afterward, Carly and my husband Fred traveled
to Appalachia to visit the programs. They were both so moved by that trip and
the work of Save the Children, that my husband suggested we find a way to keep
giving. And the tag sale was born.”

Their first tag sale was
held the next year, raising $3,000. And over the years, with the introduction
of fundraising tools like an online donation page and silent auctions on more
expensive items, the proceeds and involvement have gone
up steadily.

This year, donations
from around 800 families helped keep the sale stocked, and the combination of
sales and donations were approaching $20,000 on Sunday, with all proceeds going
to Save the Children’s emergency relief programming in the U.S.

Daum family
Michelle Daum and her husband Fred, center, with daughters Carly, left, and Justine. Their charitable tag sale has become a community “institution” in Larchmont, N.Y., according to attendees.Photo by Byron Kittle.
On Sunday, Michelle Daum
took some time away from being manager of the day’s events, to talk about what
makes her family’s tag sale such a resounding success year after year. The
recipe for tag sale success, she indicated, is one of good sale items,
community support and a good cause.

“It’s completely a
community effort … you see this outpouring of both helpers and buyers,” Daum
said. “Everyone loves looking around, and most everyone finds something they
want. Donors like to know that their donated items will be cherished by

The tag sale has a
simple formula – the Larchmont community bands together to accumulate enough
merchandise to draw a crowd, and the shoppers get to save money on an eclectic
assortment of items and support Save the Child at the same time. That doesn’t
mean the job is easy by any stretch.

“It’s a very difficult
juggling act,” Daum said, to “move the merchandise” at bargain prices but also
conduct an effective fundraising effort.

The tag sale also seems
resilient to setbacks and delays, with this year’s rain date not putting a dent
in attendance.

“This is the first year
we had a rain date, and yet the turnout has been tremendous,” Daum said. “We
had people here helping this morning at 6 o’clock, which I’m so grateful for.
The buyers have clearly come back.”

Daum said some people
come from as far away as Hudson, N.Y. (an almost 3 hour drive), to participate
in the sale. One shopper, a woman named Chris, said she’s been coming to the
sale since its inception because of Save the Children’s mission.

“I’m in education, and
have been for 42 years,” she said. “And children are probably the most
important resource we have in the world, so that’s why I’m here.”

That sentiment was
echoed by a number of other attendees. Betty Comerford is a Larchmont native
who has been helping the Daums and Save the Children for well over a decade.

Tag sale items
Around 1400 families were asked to donate to the Daum family’s annual tag sale in Larchmont, N.Y. This year’s proceeds will go to Save the Children’s emergency relief programming in the U.S. Photo by Byron Kittle.
“It’s such a great sale
and such a great cause – it really rallies the community,” she said. “It’s like
an institution in Larchmont now – ‘the Daum’s Save the Children Sale’ – so
people keep coming back year after year because they know it’s going to a good

Another regular is
Jennifer Hayward from White Plains, N.Y.

“I am thrilled to come
here each year because, A, I get great things; and, B, [Save the Children]
really helps,” she said. “They’re helping kids all over – I got a great price
and I gave a few bucks extra because it’s going to a great cause.”

One of the sale’s first-time
volunteers this year was Gina Cantelmo, who also works for Save the Children.

“It’s a well-oiled
machine – the Daum family has this down to a science, and we’re thankful that
they have chosen us to be the beneficiaries of this event every year,” Cantelmo
said. “I’m so thankful that everyone is willing to give up part of their Mother’s
Day to support this worthwhile cause.”

And the community plays
a huge part in the sale’s success. According to Michelle Daum, around 18
volunteers arrived before dawn on Sunday to help her organize the merchandise
and prepare for the day’s activities.

“All the goods you saw
were in boxes and bags on our driveway until 6 a.m. Sunday morning,” she said.
“It was a huge community effort to get all that out and displayed.”