Christmas through a child’s eyes

Published 3:28 pm Sunday, December 28, 2008

MURFREESBORO — It all started with an empty Santa Claus suit.

Several years ago, Riverview Elementary Exceptional Children’s teacher Rhonda Jones was faced with that predicament. While she had a suit for the Santa who could bring a little joy to the students in her class, Jones couldn’t find a person to fill it.

A call to the Murfreesboro Police Department (MPD) yielded what Jones was looking for.

Jones recalled speaking with MPD Sgt. Jamie Dilday, who was then the school’s D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistant Education) officer.

“I asked him if he knew anyone that might fit the bill,” she remembered. “He said, ‘We can do that’.”

But instead of just providing a Santa for the class, Dilday decided to take donations to supply gifts as well.

Since then Dilday hasn’t looked back with the effort. Year round he taps the businesses and citizens in the Murfreesboro community for donations in order to bring Christmas to students with special needs.

The money donated is placed into the MPD Christmas Fund and then allocated to Jones who buys the gifts for the students.

With large gift bags in hand, each year the MPD makes the trip to the school with Santa in tow.

Jones said the gifts purchased range from items the students have expressed desire for to educational toys that help them with communication, mimicking words and actions.

Jones noted Santa himself helps the children associate a physical being to the concept of Santa Claus.

“Some of these children don’t have a lot of interaction with the community,” she said. “This way they get it.”

In approximately six years, the effort has expanded from providing gifts for six children to 15 students.

As the rate increases in the number of children being diagnosed with developmental disorders and special needs alike, Jones’s class is no different. An additional class (taught by Sallie Barnes) was added to the school to accommodate the 15 students, who hail from all over Hertford County and some even from neighboring counties.

Despite the expansion of the classes, the Murfreesboro Police Department Christmas Fund continues to meet the effort on the same contributions given each year by those in Murfreesboro area.

Even with the current economic situation, Dilday said those who gave did so even more.

Both Jones and MPD Chief Darrell Rowe commended Dilday for the effort.

“We could not do anything without Sgt. Dilday, he does all the footwork,” said Jones.

“This makes you feel good to be a police officer,” said Rowe.

Rowe noted that often in the law enforcement field, seeing people during their worse times is often the norm.

“Children do face adversity everyday,” said Rowe. “I can’t think of a more deserving class than (these students).”

Dilday thanked Chief Rowe for allowing him to continue the event.

Providing the event for the students gives Dilday a different outlook on the holiday.

“Normally we deal with adults,” he said. “Looking at Christmas through a child’s eyes puts everything in perspective.”

Those that are interested in donating to the Christmas Fund can contact the MPD at (252) 398-4151.