BUCKHANNON — When the owner of a Main Street salon agreed to collect Christmas presents for local high school students in 2016, he was happy to do it.
Several Buckhannon-Upshur High School employees had asked Rondal Mitchell, owner of
But this year, it hit just a little closer to home for Mitchell, a father of three sons.
“I said yes last year, and it turned out great, but this year, in 2017, it hit me a little more personally, and I did it for different reasons,” Mitchell said Friday, as he and his intern, Paulina Nottingham, a fifth-year master’s degree student at West Virginia Wesleyan College, prepped to distribute Christmas presents to 32 students and their siblings.
“My three sons, who are in elementary school and middle school, have a best friend in high school,” Mitchell explained. Unable to live with his mother, the high school student had been residing with his father — until the father passed away recently.
“He had to go live with his sister, so this year, I understand why this is so important to do because it’s hit so close to home,” Mitchell said.
For her two-credit internship at Wesleyan, Nottingham — who is earning her master’s in business administration with a nonprofit specialization — orchestrated the angel tree project for high-schoolers. The effort is much like the angel tree program the Salvation Army organizes yearly.
Not only do high schoolers often get overlooked at Christmastime, homelessness is conflated with the concept of being poor all year around, Mitchell said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of times, people will say to me (about high school students in need), ‘why don’t they just get jobs?” Mitchell recounted. “Well, this particular young man can’t get a job. He’s 14, and you need to have a car to be able to get a job.
“Being poor and being homeless
And the term “homeless” is all too often misinterpreted, he said.
“When people think of homeless, they think of living in cardboard boxes on the street,” Mitchell said. “But what homeless means is they have no place of their own. There’s definitely a misconception surrounding homelessness.”
So, what does homelessness look like?
“Homelessness can mean a variety of things,” Nottingham said. “It can mean multiple families living in one home, students living in foster care or with someone other than a parent.”
Nottingham said the project was an eye-opening experience for her.
“It’s been awesome. I’ve made a lot of connections in the community,” she said. “It gave me a whole new idea of how many high school students in this community were in need. Everyone deserves to have a good Christmas, especially in a small town like this.”
Nottingham, who is from Champaign, Illinois, held up one form for a young, male student who listed his shirt size, as well as the fact that he liked skulls, beanie hats
“Some of the things they ask for are really simple,” she said. “Just basic wants and needs.”
And what students are gifted through the angel tree program may be the only presents they receive for Christmas, Mitchell learned in 2016.
“Last year, we received thank-you notes from our kids that said our presents were the only ones they had received,” Mitchell said. “I want people to understand that these students are often overlooked, and they are still children of God — they just don’t happen to be 4 years old.”
The angel tree for B-UHS students will be
“There is a stigma attached to the angel tree, but I’m hoping we can change that so that kids who are in need can start reaching, and it will grow each year,” he said.
The salon owner has noticed a remarkable difference between the items younger children ask for and those that the older children request.
“The younger ones will want things to play with, Disney and toys, but the older kids want comforters and sheets and work boots and food gift cards and gas gift cards,” Mitchell said. “There’s a massive difference; the older ones want things they need… they want real-life things.”