By Lisa Capobianco
A crowd of families gathered together at the Southington YMCA’s 29th annual Giving Tree ceremony last week, celebrating the spirit of the holiday season while remembering loved ones who have passed on. This year the ceremony at featured a large tree in front of the entrance, which also lit up during the event.
Every year the lobby of the YMCA displays a Christmas tree, which displays feathers with the names of loved ones that local residents wish to remember this holiday season. All proceeds benefit the Sioux YMCA in South Dakota.
“It is a time to remember what the holiday season is all about—the importance of sharing,” said Susan Skarvinko, the chair of the event. “This is a portion of the country that is poor in material things.”
For Reverend Dawn Karlson, the pastor for Youth and Family Ministry at Southington’s First Congregational Church, the celebration served as a reminder of the time she spent with one of the Sioux tribes in 2007. Karlson participated in the service project through Hawking, a non-profit organization in Glastonbury that assists the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to meet their needs in education, housing and water, health, and income.
“This event is a good reminder to the commitment I made,”said Karlson, who participated in the Giving Tree ceremony for the first time.
According to Hawking’s website, the unemployment rate in the tribe has an unemployment rate of 90 percent, and people live in overcrowded, rundown homes that may still lack electricity, running water or phones. Hawking also reports that an estimated 3,000 children under the age of 18 on the reservation need immediate support.
Karlson said she spent a week with people in the tribe, soaking up their cultural traditions while working on the home a spiritual leader who lived there. She learned how to make the home insulated so the leader and his family could stay warm in the winter.
“The situation was so bad they were getting sick,” Karlson said. “I wish we could do more—it is a complex situation.”
During the Giving Tree ceremony, the fifth grade chorus of Hatton Elementary School and four-year-olds from the YMCA Learning Center heard Karlson’s story for the first time. After singing Christmas songs for their families outside, the children learned more about the tribe’s culture through Karlson’s story.
“We are all related,” said Karlson, adding that the people of the reservation lived by that statement on a daily basis. “It is so important that we help the people there.”
Ann Marie Pulvermacher of Hatton Elementary School, who led the fifth grade chorus, said she felt proud of her students for participating in the event to support a good cause in the community.
“It is a wonderful experience for our students to be a part of the community,” Pulvermacher said. “It is important for them to see what is going on in town.”