"I really love helping people," said sixth-grader Chloe Nhau. "It means so much to be here."
"I like seeing people happy," said seventh-grader Ivy Skipper. "I enjoy seeing what they get instead of what I get."
"I think everyone deserves a second chance to get back on their feet, to have a little push to start over with their life, to make sure they are going to be OK," said sixth-grader Izzie Fedorov.
These are the voices of the Grisham Middle School students who stood outside Kizzy Jackson’s apartment Friday afternoon in the rain to deliver the carloads of presents they had collected for the Season for Caring family.
The Statesman’s annual charity program highlights the needs of 12 families like the Jacksons and helps hundreds of other families through local nonprofit organizations that nominate the featured families.
The Jacksons were nominated by Communities In Schools of Central Texas. They came to Austin two years ago after flooding in Louisiana made it difficult for Kizzy Jackson, 38, to find work. Her son Joseph, 10, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety. Son Clarence, 11, is autistic. Her mother, Betty Hyder, 62, lives with the family as well.
For the ninth year, Grisham, a North Austin school in the Round Rock school district, adopted a Season for Caring family and collected gifts and donations for that family. Anything given in excess then helps other families served by that nonprofit organization.
This year, Season for Caring has raised $550,243 in monetary donations and $181,308 in in-kind donations for a total of $731,551. Since it began in 1999, Season for Caring has given more than $13.4 million to local nonprofit organizations.
On Friday, the students, led by art teacher Kristin Goodman and theater teacher Susan Dickson, carried armful after armful of presents into Jackson’s apartment. They filled the living room with several layers of gifts.
"Don’t we need to leave some space to sit?" Dickson said.
Clarence opened a 149-piece artist’s set. And both boys opened tablets.
Then Hyder and Kizzy Jackson opened up a box that had been kept separate from the other gifts. "Oh, my God!" Hyder said "Oh, Jesus." It held $4,480 in gift cards. "Thank you, Heavenly Father. Lord, have mercy. What am I going to do with this?"
"I think you’ll find something," Dickson said.
The school also had donated more than $6,000 in wrapped presents.
"Can I give you a hug?" Goodman asked Jackson. "Thank you for welcoming me into your home and letting us be a part of this for you. It makes our Christmas."
Joseph played "Jingle Bells" on his new electric piano that had been donated, and then Clarence sang "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Everyone joined in to dance to the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
"You are so loved, you don’t know how loved you are," Hyder told the Grisham students. "As long as my grandchildren are happy, I’m happy."
"As long as these three are happy, we’re happy," Jackson said.
"As long as you are happy, we’re happy," Dickson said.
The school also gave the family Grisham hoodies with a grizzly bear and "one family" on the back. "You are part of the Grisham family," Dickson said.
With that, the Jackson family put on their hoodies, as Hyder told Clarence, "You’re a Grizzly now."
The family planned to open one gift a day each until Christmas.
"I’m overwhelmed," Jackson said, "I know he’s going to be overwhelmed," she said of Clarence.
"We are going to have the best Christmas in the world."
For Goodman and Dickson, this makes their year. There’s a lot of work going into adopting a family and a lot of worry that the fundraising won’t come through the way they want it to.
"It’s always amazing at the end," Goodman said.
She and Dickson allow this project to be student-led, including picking the family, creating posters and coming up with a marketing plan to get the word out. It’s part of the school’s mission to be community service-minded.
The lesson that this teaches the students is that "charitable giving is more than just putting out a box," Goodman said. It’s about marketing and logistics. "There’s hard work to this."
Eighth graders lined up outside the school each morning to take donations and encourage giving. "Frozen faces, frozen hands," Goodman said.
She encouraged donations by telling kids that if they got to $3,000 in gift cards before the last day of the semester, there would be special guests standing out there with them. The kids picked their favorite teachers to be those guests.
"Middle schoolers get a bad rap," Goodman said, but these students all wanted to be part of it. They stayed after school on the last day of class before the winter break to wrap presents for an hour and gave up their first day off during the break to bring gifts to the family.
"Everyone plays their little part," Goodman said.
Seventh-grader Samarth Margasahayam went door to door and collected donations for a $200 gift card to H-E-B and a $200 gift card to Walmart. It was almost double what he had done last year.
"I’m very fortunate to have the things I have," Margasahayam said. "I wanted the Jackson family to have things themselves." He pointed to everything they went through, including having to leave Louisiana after flooding and starting over. "I just love helping people."
Next year, Margasahayam wants to reach $600 in donations.
As the kids were getting back into their cars to go home, Dickson said, "I am really proud of you guys."
"When you’re in the position to pass it on, I think it’s really empowering," Goodman said of why they continue to do this every year.
When Goodman announced the program for this year, she told the school about the first family they helped: Nancy Knox had ovarian cancer and died later that spring, leaving behind two kids who were 6 and 3 years old.
"She couldn’t wait to get better so she could pass this on," Goodman said. "We can pass it on in her place."
The Jacksons received everything on their wish list except for help with car repairs or a more reliable vehicle. (Communities In Schools, 512-462-1771, ciscentraltexas.org)
Other families still have many items on their wish lists, including toys for children. Read their stories at statesman.com/seasonforcaring.