The message below is from our dear friend Jon English. Jon is a loyal supporter of Covenant Community Services and a partner in sharing hope. Last year, Jon led an effort to launch a Blues Concert Series to support Covenant. In May 2022, after three years of struggle and opposition, we held the inaugural Covenant Community Concert. It was a great success and attributed to Jon and his efforts of compassion and hustle.
The picture below is from the concert weekend and Jon sharing with foster youth about life and success. His story is incredible, and I am blessed to share one memory and message from him with you.
FROM ORPHAN JON:
Thursday’s Thoughts….. Dedicated to those that bring security, hope, compassion, and love to my brothers and sisters affected by abandonment.
“Tis The Season For Giving”
Your generosity can go a long way. And can do so much without you ever knowing during this time of year. How do I know this?
I was 8 years old and attending 2nd grade at Vineland Elementary school outside of Weedpatch, Ca. in the winter of 1973.
I really hated holidays, birthdays, mother’s days, and father’s days; basically, any such day set aside to be a reminder of what I didn’t have. Being an orphan has prices to pay. Loneliness is one friend that is in the constant fellowship of such a child. Seeing kids get picked up by their parents to go home with them every holiday vacation was purely heartbreaking.
Well, that’s one I just couldn’t stand. My earliest remembrance of sharing in such festivities was at the Shelter Care on Mt. Vernon Ave. in Bakersfield, California; now it’s Juvie. Same building, same miseries to behold, same emptiness to live with; what irony.
A little back story for you.
I was in Shelter Care from the age of 8 months until 6 years old, with only a brief stint away while in a few foster homes and when my biological mother had me for about a 6-month period during my kindergarten year at Bessie Owens Elementary and then Virginia Ave. Elementary in 71. During those winters in Shelter Care and close to Christmas, the Girl Scouts would come to visit and bring us a toy; most of the time, they were handmade. Man, would that put a smile on my little face. But not for long, for once we went back into a stranger’s home, we no longer had the toy that was given. It was to be left at the Shelter for other unfortunate children to enjoy.
So even though it was a joyous occasion for a child, it was a momentary one. And it was always another reminder to me, during the holidays, of what I couldn’t have nor keep, only because I had no parents.
Back on the subject …
So here I was in another foster home, in another place I didn’t feel I belonged, and at another school of kids who will get to go home to their own loving families for a holiday. I’m at Vineland Elementary School just east of Weedpatch, going through all those wonderful motions of learning Christmas carols, hanging paper stockings at a paper chimney that the teacher made for the classroom, coloring paper candy canes that we had cut out of copied drawings and writing Christmas tree cards to give to someone. Someone. Someone, you would call your mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa. But to me, through my previous experiences, I’ve learned by now that doesn’t happen.
But at 8 years old.
In 73, while at school, something different did happen. It was on a particular winter’s morning, unannounced nor forewarned, I was ushered out of the classroom to a “short bus”; yes, what a riot, and whisked away with several other children I’d never seen before. I have no idea what’s going on. Nothing is said to me or told of. Just that I’m going somewhere. But where I’m going to? I have no clue.
We travel for a good while. Once arriving, we are led into this huge banquette hall filled with typical Christmas ornaments and such. Lined along the entry and all the way around the walls are men in uniforms, sharply dressed and standing at attention. I think to myself, wow, must be something really special going on here for someone.
The giant hall.
The hall is filled with several rows of tables with white tablecloths, Christmas-themed plates, real silverware, glasses, and Poinsettia arrangements. There’s a big stage with curtains drawn and a huge decorated Christmas tree just to the left of the stage. The hall is loud with the chatter of several children of all ages that had already arrived before me.
The sharp-dressed men instruct us to be seated at the table. We’re fed a traditional Christmas meal, which is comical to me looking back now since there was absolutely nothing traditional in my life up to this point. Soon a few gentlemen give a little speech about the needs of the less fortunate in society. I have no idea who they’re speaking of because my life’s been the way it is since I can remember; there’s no reference for me to draw from that it was even better.
Afterward, we are told to stand at our tables, and when that table is directed, we are to form a line at the front where the steps are located on the left side of the stage. I still have no clue what’s going on. But there’s some excitement building in the room.
Then the curtains are pulled back. There sitting in all his splendor is Santa! To an 8-year-old child without, this was huge. This was epic. There’s the cat that can give me what I’ve only dreamed of. The man that can deliver what all those lonely nights lying in my bunk in the Shelter Care took from me. The man that could give me what I longed for while looking at that green “exit’ sign crying myself to sleep so many nights because I knew that I would never really have one.
So here I am, waiting my turn, nervous as all get out. It’s the big guy in the Red Suit!! He’ll make it happen! I’m hoping. I’m praying. I’m believing. My turn. He sits me on his lap and asks me what I want for Christmas. Me? Johnny? Johnny William Sarnowski?! This little polish kid? What do I want for Christmas? You ask any orphan what he wants for Christmas, and you’ll forever get the same answer, and it was my answer too.
He chuckled nervously upon hearing my response, of course. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time he heard such a request today. I waited breathlessly waiting for the answer. It never came. Instead, he just patted me on the head and directed my attention to a huge pile of boxed, unwrapped toys placed neatly on the stage behind him. He told me I could have one gift of my choosing.
I left his lap and headed toward the unwrapped toys.
Tears began to form after it set in, and I realized he couldn’t give me what I so badly wanted that day. I wiped my face with my sleeve and did as he had instructed.
I looked around at the many toys and pointed at a Basketball. And one of the neatly dressed uniformed men went over, picked up the box it was in, and brought it over. While bending down on one knee, he gently shook my hand and wished me a Merry Christmas as he handed the gift I had picked out to my waiting little hands.
I didn’t receive what I wanted most that morning. But what I did receive, as I would find out as time went by, was something way more valuable to me. I was given a brief moment of feeling that I was loved and of some importance to someone for a change.
To see what was put together for this little kid that had absolutely nothing, so he could have a good memory to cherish as the years passed was transforming. I, little Johnny. I was what was so special that cold December morning in 73. I still remember it so vividly to this day. It had such a positive effect on my early life.
Giving. Giving of time. Giving of oneself. Giving so the less fortunate could smile, even if it was just short-lived. It WAS LIVED. And it was a forever experience in my childhood. An experience that showed me that there is good out there in the world.
There are good people. There is hope. You see, it wasn’t until my later years in life that I realized that I was a guest of that morning in the winter of 73.
It was the Marine’s Toys for Tots. A yearly event during the Christmas season. Created to provide for the less fortunate in our communities. They were able to give me a memory of happiness that would one day be a small catalyst in starting the change of my bitterness and anger to peace and love and help transform me into who I am today. They gave because others gave. Total strangers gave. With love, I believe they did.
I share this memory every year at this time. Why?
Because as an abandoned child not knowing what it’s like to be raised in a loving home and experience the Holiday’s from birth as most have, I wanted you; my family, my friends, and my fans to know that when you give to brighten a foster child’s Christmas, it truly matters. And even though you most likely will never ever know what effect you had on the receiver of your gift, know it was a positive one.
Your generosity can go a long way. And can do so much without you ever knowing. How do I know this? Because someone gave it to me once when I was a lost child, and it DID make a difference.
Oh, and that basketball? I got to keep it with me, and for several years I did. Until one day, I gave it away to a child in need of a good memory to cherish and a friend.
To my Family, Friends, and Fans. May this season of giving bring back to you tenfold in happiness and prosperity.
Covenant Community Services, Inc. is a California nonprofit 501(c)3 dedicated to serving foster youth, foster children, and their families with hope and love. The mission of “restoring lives and transforming generations” only happens as Covenant partners with local faith groups, businesses, individuals, community organizations, and many others to provide hope and love.For more information head to www.covenantcs.net or www.covenantcoffee.org