By Andrew Cluley
Before Debbie Williams-Hoak was on the LPGA Tour, or an All-American track athlete at the University of Michigan she had a few holiday seasons without any presents or a Christmas tree. Since 1996 she’s been working to make sure kids in Washtenaw County don’t have a similar experience. This year, her Magic of Christmas-Adopt a Family Foundation and affiliated programs like the Angel Tree, will make sure over 300 kids from the Ann Arbor Public Schools receive presents.
Williams-Hoak started her effort in the mid-90’s partnering with the Ann Arbor Police Department to make sure the program would be credible, and as a way to improve the perception of the police department. Over the years the program has expanded to include law enforcement agencies from across Washtenaw County. The program really started to expand about eight years ago when radio station WTKA officially began partnering with the Magic of Christmas.
Over 700 children received presents from the program last year, and Williams-Hoak expects to brighten the holidays for around 650 kids this year. She’s always amazed at what kids ask for each year. “Predominately hats, gloves, winter boots, and coats,” she says. “We make sure it’s a combination of wants and needs, because every kid has got to open something fun.”
The Ann Arbor Public Schools gets involved in the program by having teachers and counselors identify children in need and collecting wish lists. AAPS Staff members also adopt kids that are identified and help wrap the presents. This year Durham School Services will deliver the presents to Ann Arbor schools.
As the program continues to grow, Williams-Hoak is looking to get a few more elves on board to help. Her Magic of Christmas work typically starts in October, but the last few weeks before schools have winter break is when it gets really crazy. Information on donating money, adopting a family, or volunteering time is available at magicofchristmasfoundation.org.
“This program is the greatest thing that my athletics has allowed me to experience,” Williams-Hoak says. She has noticed a change over the years though. “People needing help have changed over the last 20 years. Now you have two college educated working parents that can’t make ends meet,” she says.