Santa’s workshop spreads holiday cheer
With a wink and a nod, Santa granted a wish for the Milford chapter of The Links Incorporated and hauled his new Christmas workshop, filled with good cheer, to a group of eager youngsters.
The tiny Christmas house is the handiwork of Milford’s own Rick George, who calls himself an “ambassador” to Santa. George created a roving happy place, filled with holiday tchotchkes and adorned with a cozy sitting area for children to greet Santa.
The jolly old elf cheerfully agreed on a recent Saturday to bring his newly completed house to the site of St. Mark’s Day Care Center in Bridgeport. There, Santa met children who were taking part in a special regional educational program offered by the Milford chapter of The Links Incorporated.
The Milford chapter is one of 282 chapters of The Links Incorporated throughout the United States and in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. Established in 1946, this non-profit organization internationally includes 14,000 professional women of color who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and others of African ancestry.
Prompted by a recent news account, one of the Milford chapter members, Lillian Holmes, contacted “ambassador” George to see if Santa’s tiny house might be available to visit the Project Links Snowflake Party.
The response, not surprisingly, was a gracious and resounding “Yes!” said Dr. Koren Paul, who is the Milford chapter Links program director.
“We wanted to incorporate this into some science-based activities we had planned for the children,” Dr. Paul explained. “Through the Links Incorporated programs, we try to bring as many enriching experiences as we can to children to make up for any social or economic gaps they may have.”
Services to Youth is one of five guiding “facets” for The Links Incorporated. The other facets are Health and Human Services, National Trends and Services, International Trends and Services, and The Arts.
So on Saturday, dozens of children started the day with a Link volunteer reading them a story about snowflakes. The children then discussed the scientific reasons why each snowflake is different. They went on to make their own snowflake ornament, using their fingerprints as part of the decoration. They used magnifying glasses to examine the differences in each fingerprint.
Next, the group trekked outside to see Santa in his Christmas house. Snacks would eventually cap off the morning.
“I’m too old for this,” said a 16-year-old participant, once inside Santa’s Christmas House. She made the statement while adjusting her snowflake antlers.
“You’re never too old to tell someone else what you wish for, what you want,” an adult answered.
The Links Incorporated membership includes influential business and civic leaders, volunteers, role models, mentors, and activists. Their motto is “Linked in Friendship. Connected in Service.” Most Links are long-term members, including those who belong to the Milford chapter. The Milford chapter president, Cheri Amado, has served four years in that leadership role.
The Milford chapter is planning several special events to mark 2016 as the 30th anniversary of its founding. Amado agreed that the group felt fortunate to have secured a visit by the Christmas house on its first full weekend of travel.
George, Santa’s ambassador, said the very first road trip for the Christmas house was to the Milford Historical Society on Dec. 11. As George previously has said he would do with non-profit groups, he accepted no fee for Santa’s travel from the Milford chapter of The Links Incorporated.
George has said, quite simply, that he’s trying to “bring people back to a kinder, gentler time.”
It appeared he was successful Saturday, as the young throng crowded into the 24-by-8-foot Christmas house. And the Milford chapter of The Links Incorporated also hit the mark by weaving the magic of the holiday into a fun and educational program.
George has been busy since the summer building his workshop, getting it ready for this holiday season.
As George, a former animal control officer, explained to his grandchildren, “Santa can’t be everywhere and he has hand-picked designees — and grandpa is one of them.”
George has been helping Santa out for years. He started 28 years ago when he worked at the Milford animal shelter and he and another former animal control officer, Pat Liptak, decided to host a pet photos with Santa event to raise funds for various shelter needs. George wore the suit.
Since then, George has put on his Santa suit at a number of events and fund-raisers, from Toys for Tots to tree lightings to school functions.
Retired somewhat, though he does work at a Milford elementary school as a front entrance greeter, George was thinking about building a tiny house, which is all the craze in downsized, simple living, when he switched gears and decided to build Santa’s workshop.
He calls it a mobile photo studio, and proceeds will go to the non-profit group that requests the workshop.
The outside of the structure is red with green trim, and there is oak flooring and pine walls, and an old-fashioned chair and tools that would naturally be in Santa’s workshop.
Since the workshop is on a trailer, George is able to hook it up to his truck and bring it to spread holiday cheer.
George has brought the workshop to four or five locations this holiday season. But he said it’s retired for the season now because it still has a bit of work left to be done.
But what he called this first season’s “soft rollout” was a great success and he’s looking forward to more visits next holiday season.
“People’s reactions have been overwhelming,” George said.