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A Miami Moment with ... Anita Sackenheim
Anita Sackenheim's love for children – whether they are her own two sons or the foster children of Butler and Preble counties — provides the drive to put her organizational talents to work in the department of kinesiology and health and for Miami University's Holiday Project.
Q: With 20 years at Miami, what is your favorite part of your role as program assistant for the department?
A: This department is special to me. I work with great faculty on interesting and varied projects. My youngest son will graduate this year with two degrees, one in physical education, the other in health education, and already has a job offer to work as a teacher in an area school. I remember in one of our all-department planning meetings telling faculty and staff of their importance to me. I said, ‘I’m counting on you to do a good job. You are helping me raise my son.’ One professor, who called my statement profound, said that she never thought like that about her teaching.
Q: How did you become involved with the Miami Holiday Project?
A: I volunteered to wrap for the project when Melva Brown coordinated the project, now in its 17th year. When she retired, about 13 years ago, she asked for volunteers to take over running the project. I love children, having two sons and 107 nieces and nephews (Yes, the number is correct); children are a very important part of my life. I also found the nature of the foster child — an overlooked group in our society — something that I could relate to being a foster parent myself to one of my nieces. I was able to see all sides of the issue. I also realized that the children we helped could be the same children sitting next to my sons in their grade schools. So, I jumped in and the project keeps growing each year.
Q: Many would remember it as the Parachute Project. Why the name change to Miami Holiday Project and what type of donations work best?
A: Parachute is the name of the Butler County agency that provides CASA’s for foster kids. (CASA’s are court appointed special advocates.) When we added Preble County, we had to change the name. We need money more than anything else. I receive shopping lists for each child from the county agency. Our volunteer shoppers are given specific rules with the money we receive. It is divided evenly among the children. Our goal this year is $20,000. There are many in the community who also help. We shop at Meijer, who donated $3,000 again this year. Others, such as Arby’s and McDonald’s help each year. I am also grateful to Miami’s physical facilities department who help with transporting the bags and to Beverly Flaig (Panuska Development Center), who is the secretary, and Heidi Neace (kinesiology and health), who is the project’s treasurer. So many people on Miami’s campus get involved and I want to thank everyone for doing their part.
Q: Who are the children you help?
A: Each year we have more than 150 children who are under court supervision through Parachute-Butler County CASA or Preble County Job & Family Services. This year I have 156 names with at least 12 more names coming from Preble County. I only receive their first names, their ages and their wish lists. I don’t get to meet them. But, that is OK. I like to imagine their reactions to their gifts. I do hear stories. One little boy about four didn't realize the gifts were for him, but happily played with the big red bag nonstop. One little girl kept the colorful wrapping paper, folded carefully in her pillowcase for several weeks. And, I hear from grandparents who care for children on fixed incomes. They sometimes write notes expressing their thanks. Many of them struggle to meet the daily needs of the children. They are so grateful for the surprise gift bag and know that it comes from Miami University.
Q: What do the children ask for on their lists?