Christmas Box staff: L to R (front)
Chris Robbins, Marché Davis, Tammy Chapman; (back)
Andrea Prior, Corry Marshall, Terri Nixon, Vesta Higgs,
Jae Dutilly, Dianne Neuss.
I hate to admit that I read
astrology columns, sometimes regularly. I’ve never mentioned
one in a story for publication, that’s for sure. But
this column beckoned a question that speaks very directly
to the subject of this week’s Non-profit Happenings:
“What will you do to make a real difference?”
The Christmas Box House employs a staff of eight people who
answer that question in seemingly small tasks every day: a
story read, an art project completed, a lap to sit on and
a conflict free place to eat and sleep. “The Box,”
as I’ve heard it referred to informally by parents who
have had their children placed there temporarily, is meant
to be a respite for kids ages 0-12 caught in a world of drugs
and alcohol, or worse, physical and/or sexual abuse and neglect.
“When these kids come
in, they are going through trauma,” said Terry Nixon,
Child Welfare Support Supervisor for the Christmas Box House.
“They have been removed from the only homes they know,
and they are hurt and angry.”
Dirk Shumway, Administrator
Terri Nixon, Supervisor
Terry oversees the operation
of the shelter and the staff, comprised of four full-time
and four on-call people. Within a few days, Terry said she
sees children open up; lighten up. They play games and come
to understand that they are, for now, safe.
The children come to the house via a referral from the Department
of Children and Family Services (DCFS) following reports of
neglect or abuse that may be under investigation, but are
substantiated enough to compel state authorities to take temporary
custody of a minor child at risk. Sometimes children are placed
there if a parent has been arrested and there are no other
family members available to step in and care for the child.
The House is also used as a respite for foster parents, who
get a few days off each month.
A shelter hearing is held before a judge within 72 hours of
placement of a child. At that time a plan is set forth to
determine when, how and if a child will be returned to their
home, and in the absence of that, what other arrangements
will be made. The Christmas Box House is a very temporary
shelter only; children typically stay between 14 to 30 days.
events and local giving for
The Christmas Box House
A relatively low-key charity, Moab
Christmas Box House would not exist without help and
contributions from the local community.
To date, the community has pulled together for the remodeling
of the Christmas Box home, built a fence to allow use
of a large backyard, provided some playground equipment,
wood chips, volleyball and croquet. “Love Bags,”
filled with personal hygiene items, an age-appropriate
toy, a hand-made quilt and bag await every child who
finds they are a temporary resident of the Christmas
Box House. In November a woman dropped three large containers
of pennies by, which the shelter received gleefully
and will roll and deposit into an account used for clothing,
treats, outings or whatever else a child may need, or
perhaps just want. One local resident brings a check
for $15 by every Christmas.
One wall of the shelter adorns the names of donors in
three categories: Rock Level ($100-$200), Angel Donors
($200-$400), and Advocate Donors $400-$600). The Christmas
Box Foundation purchases a rock leading up to the sculptured
angel inform of the Christmas Box House for every “Rock”
donor, with the full $100 staying at the local shelter.
Local businessman Colin Fryer has his own plaque on
the wall for continuous and generous contributions above
and beyond those three categories.
This month, the shelter will host an Open House for
donors, Department of Children and Family Services staff
and others in appreciation of the level of giving that
keeps the Christmas Box alive.
In addition, Christmas Box staff will place small, cardboard
Christmas tree-tags in businesses around town with wish
list items to help make the shelter more comfortable
for children. On the list are big items and small, including
a computer, a CD player, toys for Christmas, and even
an outdoor playhouse for bigger kids.
All donations, cash, in-kind or gifts, go directly to
the local shelter.
For information about how you can help, call 259-1658.
“After that, they start
getting bored and unhappy,” Terry said. “They
want to be with their friends, they want to live a less sheltered
Foster homes take in children at that point if parents or
family are unavailable. Children under three years old go
to “Legal Risk” homes, which are foster homes
already licensed for adoption. In the event the child is unable
to go back home, there is less moving around if they’ve
already been placed in a foster home that can become their
While at the Christmas Box House Moab kids continue to go
to school, and children from Blanding or Price are signed
up for school in Moab. Children also receive visits from their
parents, which are supervised by the Christmas Box House staff.
“We keep parents informed about how their kids are doing,”
Terry said, admitting that parents are usually unhappy with
the situation and could easily blame the shelter staff for
the removal of their children from the home. “We are
here to take care of the kids. We have nothing to do with
the circumstances that bring them here, and we don’t
know about the case outside of visitation guidelines set up
by the court. That helps take some of the pressure off. We’re
not the bad guys, we’re the good guys.”
Named for a book written by Richard Paul Evans, and a concept
further developed by the success of that book, the Christmas
Box House was developed in the spirit of private-public partnership
and continues to operate in that way. Moab is home to the
first Christmas Box House, which came together with a commitment
of property from the State of Utah, cooperation from the private
sector, and operational funding for food, shelter and staff
from the State of Utah. All of the “extras,” such
as playground equipment, toys, “Love Bags,” decorations-
everything outside of very basic necessities-comes from donations
and contributions from the local community. Not surprisingly,
the holidays are when contributions are needed the most.
In the four and a half years the shelter has operated in Moab,
there have been children in the shelter for all but one holiday
“It’s fun for us because we can spoil the kids,”
Terry said, emphasizing the “us” with unmasked
sadness for the child. “We decorate something fierce.
The state doesn’t pay for any of that, so we (staff)
go out and buy it or bring it from home. We tell the kids
‘it’s okay, you’re going to have fun here,
you’re going to get presents!’”
When school is out Terry said the shelter sees fewer kids.
She thinks it’s because there are fewer teachers reporting
incidents of abuse or neglect, or perhaps because older siblings
are home looking after the young ones. In
any case, Terry and her staff work together to “make
a real difference,” every month. Evans himself, on a
videotaped program about the project, says exactly that:
“This is really making a difference.”
“We’ve served 225 children since 1999, and although
we don’t normally know what happens when a child leaves
here, in a small town we get a sense from parents or the kids
themselves when we see them,” Terry said. “And
the staff we have here now is awesome. We are really here
for each other, we do things together, and each of us brings
a different strength to caring for the kids.
“Because it can get difficult, seeing what some children
are going through, we are a great support for each other.”
Donors names are engraved in the
rocks leading to the entry to the Christmas Box House.