Fostering Christmas Fosters Community
When Kelli Rich became a cheerleading coach at Nampa High School, she wanted her work to be about more than sports. “One of the pillars of my program is the community and helping our young adults see beyond themselves,” Kelli says. So when she learned about Fostering Christmas, she jumped at the opportunity to help.
“I thought this was an area where many of the students could find their niche in giving back,” Kelli says. “Teenagers often get sucked into their own lives and all the stressors they deal with, and [volunteering] draws their attention away from themselves. By looking at other kids and seeing how they can serve, volunteering helps my students gain perspective.”
The Nampa cheerleaders contributed to the cause by helping Fostering Christmas shop for presents for foster children. The organizers provided the students with lists of similarly-aged students so they could help select fashionable gifts. Kelli could not attend the shopping trip, but she saw its impact on the students who participated.
“It was heartwarming,” she says. “They saw that many students in their community were not offered the same privileges they were and didn’t have all that stuff at Christmastime they sometimes take for granted.” Fostering Christmas, it seems, fostered a sense of empathy in the athletes. “They also realized that some students on our team once received support from similar programs,” Kelli says. “They now have a different perspective on the community in which they live.”
The impacts have been long-lasting. As the students who volunteered with Fostering Christmas last year became eligible to work for the first time over the summer, they gravitated toward jobs where they could help others. “The students realized that they could be a positive influence on other kids’ lives,” Kelli says. “About five of my athletes now work at the Boys & Girls Club, and three others were drawn to local daycares, where they could interact with kids.” More still found their first jobs at the YMCA and other organizations that allowed them to give back.
That sense of community spirit is precisely what Kelli had in mind when she started coaching full-time at Nampa six years ago. Before that, she taught kindergarten; her husband is a junior high teacher. “My husband and I both grew up in small towns and experienced that close-knit community with athletics, and we felt like we were missing that in our large town,” Kelli says.
So, she was excited when a coaching position opened at the high school that taught her husband’s former junior high students. “I wanted to coach in a space where the kids lived near me; my husband taught them, and I taught them,” Kelli says. “I’m kind of a dreamer, and I believed we could continue to impact these young adults and build them up.”
“My program is built on helping my athletes understand that they’re a part of something bigger,” Kelli says. Volunteering with programs like Fostering Christmas is all part of that work. “When they walk into a stadium, I want people to stop and say, ‘Oh, my gosh — that’s Nampa High,” Kelli says. “Not just because of the athletes they are but because of what types of human beings they are.”