State representative lends a helping hand to kids in need

First Posted: 12/27/2008

ELKIN For Christmas, most kids probably had a wish list that included something expensive that wasnt a necessity.
But instead of aiming to get the newest toy, the latest fashions or advanced gadgets, many of the children at the Childrens Center of Surry wish for something less complicated and more essential like clothes that fit and school supplies.
And thats what Democratic N.C. Rep. Jim Harrell III hopes he accomplishes when he takes the group of children and teenagers out shopping every year for Christmas.
For about six years, Harrell, along with other members of his family and mentors from the Childrens Center, which provides parent and children support services in the area, take the kids shopping giving them an opportunity to get items they need without having to worry about the costs to their own wallets.
Friday, Harrell took about nine children living at the Childrens Center the center to shop at Wal-Mart in Elkin.
The kids sit down and make a list of what they need, and I make a budget based on the list, he said. Its eye opening to see how quickly they have to become adults when you see their wish list, you see how great their need is.
Harrell, who has represented both Alleghany and Surry in the 90th district for six years, said from the first time he entered the Childrens Center he knew he wanted to give a helping hand.
Everyone deserves an opportunity, from the first time I set foot in childrens home, I realized every child is not given the right opportunity, he said. I can certainly recall what its like to be 13 pressures strapped with not having a family, resources, clothing, it makes you think how can anybody survive?
But instead of just questioning the kids circumstances, Harrell took an initiative to do something positive to make them better.
I believe in giving a child a chance, he said. If you tell a child to be organized, but you give them a room without furniture, how can you expect them to be organized? There are a lot of tools and conveniences in life we take for granted that are not in their environment.
They are not looking for gadgets and toys, they are looking for the essentials, and its pretty heartbreaking, he said.
Typically, Harrell takes the kids shopping a week before Christmas, but he scheduled it for the day after Christmas to ensure all the kids could participate.
It works to our advantage, we get more bang for our buck, and were hoping to avoid the return line, he said, laughing.
Robin Testerman, the executive director of the Childrens Center of Surry, said she believes Harrells generosity makes a a huge difference in the childrens lives.
He does so much, she said. He s been supportive of the kids needs in Surry County.
Education Director Mark Fuhrmann mirrored Testermans comments.
I cant say enough about that whole family, he said. Theyve made significant donations to center. The kids really enjoy it.
The centers eldest resident Megan Lewis, 18, shared her thoughts about the shopping experience.
I think its amazing. I dont know how anyone could be so nice and kind, and I respect him for that, she said. Hes kind of like Santa Claus. To me, his participation means that he really cares, hes there for us and he wants to show us he cares.
She also said she was initially surprised by Harrells generosity, but thankful that he has stayed involved with the kids at the residence, both financially and emotionally.
He took us to Wal-Mart and said get what you want, she said. Im sure a lot of us didnt get to do this at home. I was able to get clothes and things I needed. Some of the other girls got things for decorating and organizing, but the majority of us got clothing, it definitely helps me, because I cant afford clothing. It makes me feel grateful to know that someone out there cares. Jim is an awesome guy.
While the kids like Lewis expressed a lot of gratitude for Harrells annual Christmas shopping trip, he said he believes its only a small step toward helping the kids.
We all need to see what we can do to decrease the hurdle these children face, he said. Our community is tremendous. I really feel that people in our community with skills should take an hour out of their week to sit and mentor a child, and youll find you have a lot to offer.
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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