More than 27 years ago, Herman Dorsett, a faculty member in the FIU College of Business, came together with the Black Employees Association (BEA) to imagine a celebration for disadvantaged low-income students from local area schools.
Using BEA member dues, fundraisers and member donations, and organized by local community leader Yvonne James, 25 kids were treated to lunch, a gift basket filled with school supplies and holiday candy and sweets. Afterward, James was asked to continue to lead in the planning of the now an annual celebration.
Over the next year, James worked diligently to raise additional funds for the celebration and was able to double the number of sponsorships and donations. She was also the mastermind behind a grab bag concept, where with donations of crockpots and other appliances from Burger King and Walmart to help raise funds to expand the celebration to include more children.
Today, the initiative started by Dorsett is one of the most anticipated events at FIU. The event has grown to host more than 70 students and with the support of departments across the university, it has become of the most treasured traditions.
This year, 72 students from 12 local Title I elementary schools had a magical experience at FIU. With support from many of the original long-time partners, including Walmart, the Home Depot, Office Depot, the University Credit Union and ShopFIU. Now under the management by FIU’s Office of Student Access & Success, the FIU Children’s Holiday Celebration (CHC) continues to expand pathways that connect under-represented students to quality post-secondary education. The event’s purpose remains to celebrate the academic achievement of local children and to expose them, from a young age to college and what it has to offer, in hopes that one day they will become Panthers.
With participation, the day includes a holiday toy workshop with the Home Depot and a talent show where all participating schools present a holiday-themed performance. Afterward, the kids are treated to a luncheon with the FIU community where the talent show winners are gifted laptops sponsored by Office Depot, and all in attendance enjoy a festive holiday show complete with Santa and his elves. In the end, all kids were surprised with gifts and a bike to kick off the holiday season.
With money raised from the coveted grab bags, Student Access & Success is able to award four undergraduate FIU students a $500 scholarship.
“We are thankful and proud that we have been able to continue our longstanding tradition and maintained our relationship to our local schools,” said Sonja Montas-Hunter, assistant vice president of Student Access and Success. “The CHC is a perfect example of FIU’s continued commitment to access and remaining a University that serves its’ community.”