ANGELS IN ATENAS: Angel Tree in Atenas Helps Less Fortunate Children Enjoy Christmas.
It all started 7 years ago when Tina Newton, owner and director of Su Espacio in Atenas decided she need to do something to help less fortunate children in Atenas enjoy Christmas. Having seen various Angel Tree projects in United States and in her native Oklahoma, Tina knew what she must do. With Tina’s hard work, determination, and overwhelming support of the local community, the Angel Tree project in Atenas was born!
The Angel Tree project has special meaning to me for many reasons. First of all, Gerardo and I love to support our community every chance we get, because the community of Atenas has given us so much, it feels good to give back in return. Personally speaking, growing up Christmas and other holiday’s were very special in our house. My mother always went out of her way to make Christmas special. I can remember decorations going up, cookies and cakes being baked and presents being wrapped and placed under the tree. My mother always involved me in these activities, sharing life lessons along the way. When Christmas Eve came the stockings were hung with the anticipation of Santa Claus’ arrival.
Looking back I realize that Christmas was always abundant in our house, even though at the time I did not think so. Because I was an only child, my parents could afford to give me just a little extra. That does not mean that my parents spent thousands of dollars on me and lavished me with computers, tv’s and iPhones like children today expect. There would always be one big gift, then many smaller ones like puzzles, matchbox cars, Lifesaver story books and clothing. One year my mother bought me 12 pairs of socks and she took the time to individually wrap each pair so that I could have my huge stocking filled to the top and overflowing. My mother said she thought that I would get mad because there were so many socks but that I was so polite and each time I opened another pair I would just smile and say thank you. This is her favorite story to tell about Christmas memories when I was young.
Once I grew up I never forgot how special Christmas had been for me in my childhood. As a teen my first job was at a local grocery store. Every year, we would have a Christmas party with a big dinner then the employees would exchange gifts. One year a friend of mine and I had seen the Angel Tree at our local McDonalds. This was a new concept in our area and we loved the idea and wanted to figure out a way we could help on a large scale. We decided to approach our colleagues and see if they would be interested in giving a donation to the Angel Tree, instead of exchanging gifts. There were no questions asked and everyone was on board immediately. Instead of exchanging gifts, we would each take an angle from the tree and give a gift to a child in need who otherwise may not receive a Christmas present. Each year our team was able to provide gifts to over 50 children in our hometown. As you can imagine, that really touched our hearts and put us all in the Christmas spirit.
I recently sat down with Tina Newton to learn more about the Angel Tree project here in Atenas as well as to have a little insight into what Su Espacio is all about and what services they provide to the community of Atenas.
Tina, what would you like us to know about the Angel Tree project you started here in Atenas 7 years ago?
Tina responds “The Angel Tree project has taken on a life of it’s own. Every year we start taking names in October for children from the Atenas community who’s families are in need and may not be able to provide gifts for their children. Volunteers hand paint angels that are hung on our tree with the details of what each individual child is wishing for including the child’s age, gender and desired gift. It is very important that the children remain anonymous. All the gifts must be wrapped and delivered to Su Espacio by the end of November. In mid December we throw a party for the children to distribute the gifts. This years party is scheduled for December 12th.
Tina do you set price limits for the gifts or are there any special requirements?
“No, we don’t set a price range for the gifts. We leave it up to the individuals purchasing the gifts on how much they want to spend. The gifts do not have to be expensive, but should be something nice, that the child would like to play with and can use or relate to. You can find a nice gift from between 5,000-10,000 colones ($10-$20) but often times less. I recently found a great deal on play dough. What child doesn't like to play with play dough? In past years we have had people give large gifts like bicycles which is very generous, but then the next year, every child wants a bike.”
How has the community responded in support of the Angel Tree Atenas?
Tina says “The support has been amazing. People are always calling ahead of time for information on the current years project and are wanting to know when we will start to collect the angels. This year in the first 24 hours of October, we had received 160 names to go on the tree.” Tina continues by saying “What I am proud of is that our support comes directly from the Atenas community and is more or less an even split between locals (Ticos) and expats. I have been here in Atenas long enough (13 years) that I can walk in anywhere and ask for help and receive great feed back. Almost everyone wants to help because they know our reputation and Atenas is such a giving community. That is a great feeling for me.”
How many “Angels” do you typically provide gifts for?
“This year we have 335 angels on our tree but one year we had 400. That was a bit overwhelming. When we have more than 350 children to provide gifts for, by the end you are on your hands and knees begging to accomplish your goal. I know we could get a corporate sponsor and probably help a lot more children, but I am proud that our support comes directly from the Atenas community. Each child receives an personalized gift, so we don’t have say, 400 teddy bears.”
Tina, can you tell us a little about Su Espacio?
Tina states “My idea of Su Espacio (Your Space) came to me 8 years ago as an idea where teachers and instructors could come together and teach their classes without having to rent an entire space on their own, which is often cost prohibitive.” Tina tells me that there are no set fees at Su Espacio for renting the space, instead each teacher pays a small percentage of their income for use of the space.
What classes are offered at Su Espacio?
“At the moment we offer dance classes range from ballet to modern and latin dance. There are also classes for yoga, karate, English and Spanish. Starting November 3rd will be offering gymnastics with an instructor coming from Alajuela. In the past we have offered art and craft classes too.”
What are some of the other services offered at Su Espacio?
“In addition to offering a wide variety of classes and the Angel Tree project, we like to provide cultural activities to the community of Atenas such as the annual Festival of Dance and Sunday in the Park. We were also active in bringing the Philadelphia Boys Choir to Atenas. I feel like we are a go to center for people who are looking for information or activities. Another thing I organize on my own and via Su Espacio is volunteer groups. Each year we bring in around 100 volunteers who stay with host families to work on various projects depending on the needs in and around the community of Atenas. This is a great influx of money not only for the town, but the host families. It is really a win-win situation because it provides a great experience for the volunteers who always go away loving Atenas and say they are leaving with far more than they gave.”
Do you have any pet projects in the works for Su Espacio?
“We want to continue offering a large variety of classes. One of my projects that I hope to start in January is a literacy program. Many of the families who’s children receive gifts via the Angel Tree are illiterate. I would love to teach these people to read and write with the hope that it would improve their lives and standard of living.”
Many people come to Atenas and want to find an outlet, a way they can give back to their new community. In ending our conversation I asked Tina if she could offer advise to those looking for opportunities to help the local community? Tina says in a matter of fact way “If people have a project in mind, I am here to lend a hand. I may not be able to do everything, but I can help organize anything. I often hear people saying that this or that is a problem but I don’t see them doing anything to solve the problem. When you see a need for something, then do your best to fill that need. Not everything requires a lot of money. Often times it requires work and a little bit of imagination. If people have special skills or are interested in volunteering they can come see me and we can figure out a way to put those skills to good use.”
In a world where everyone seems to have everything, it’s important to slow down and realize there are many who don’t have the tools or basic necessities in life to survive. I believe it should be our common goal to help our communities THRIVE, not just survive. It does my heart good to see people like Tina Newton and places like Su Espacio being of service to their community. My family instilled in me from an early age that I lived a fortunate life and I was told to be aware that it could just as easily be me in a place of need and not to take my blessings for granted. If we all take a moment to look within and reflect on our lives, we can realize how rich we really are. As we go into the holiday season, let’s all be thankful for our blessings and find an Angel we can generously help. In the end you will have received the biggest gift because being generous is the best gift that you can give yourself.
To learn more about the Angel Tree, Su Espacio or how you can help out in the Atenas area you can contact Tina Newton at:
Facebook- Su Espacio Atenas
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