Miracles happen in Pensacola

Image: 

I believe in miracles. They happen when we take a chance and share our hearts with each other. They happen when artists choose to donate their time to raise a little money to support Christmas Wishes for kids who might otherwise go without. They happen when women wear tacky sweaters to laugh a little at themselves and smile a lot as they fill stockings for 4-year-olds whose lives are a little brighter because they have a ReadingPal who care.

 As we move from Thanksgiving to Giving Tuesday to holidays made special by the grace that comes from caring for others, I struggle to preserve rapid-fire memories derived from glimpses of kindness and generosity. This year, my moments started Nov. 20 with Miracle on Palafox. At that event, Superstar Josh Turner was joined by duo Thompson Square and up-and-coming trio Runaway June. These six artists chose to donate their time to Miracle on Palafox so that struggling local families might be helped with Christmas Wishes that could brighten their children’s holiday. Each artist gave something up to care for others. Josh Turner shared his birthday with the crowd of more than 1,600 lucky attendees who got a ticket to the concert, which sold out in 12 minutes. His humble spirit was a reminder that even birthdays are more special when they are given as a gift to others.

Runaway June shared personal stories of their childhoods and reasons for giving their time to Miracle on Palafox. For lead singer Naomi Cooke, a “humble” childhood spent as one of 11 siblings who shared “many trips to a local food bank” was reason enough to give other children Christmas Wishes. Saying “this is personal to me,” Cooke introduced her bandmate, Jennifer Wayne. As the granddaughter of John Wayne, Jennifer thought there was nothing more American than giving back, and suggested that “the Duke” would have expected her to give her time to help out. Wayne said she looked forward to reading the stories of the children who would be helped from the proceeds of the concert. Like Thompson Square, Runaway June came to Pensacola because local radio personality Brent Lane asked them to come. They were quick to acknowledge they were happy to give back because Brent Lane had shared what their donation of time could do for local kids.

Thompson Square duo Keifer and Shawna Thompson gave up time with their own son so that they could help other kids have a better Christmas. While acoustical theatres like the Saenger are Thompson Square’s favorite venues, and while Keifer said, “I love shows I can drive my truck to,” it was clear the motivation for donating their time was more than one of convenience for the duo, who live nearby.After the concert, United Way 211 information and referral specialists took applications for Christmas Wishes and Friday announced which applicants will receive support for their children. While many will be helped, there is always more to do and there simply were not enough dollars to fund all those who called for support.

Despite the fact that all who requested help could not be served, our community continues to step forward in ways that grow my belief in miracles. At the same time as the calls were ending for applicants to apply for Christmas Wishes, United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council was meeting to celebrate the holidays by stuffing stockings for local 4-year-olds. Laughter was frequent as attendees modeled the ugly sweaters, flashing garlands and tinsel and snowflake themed garb worn in attempts to win first prize in the annual “tacky sweater contest.” In truth, the smiles grew at the end of the night when four vehicles packed with stockings, warm coats toys and supplies were headed to make the holidays brighter for four-year-olds at HeadStart, Global Learning Academy, CA Weis, Montclair and McMillan elementary schools.

If you don’t believe in miracles, open your heart and help someone else. As Thompson Square says in "We Are Glass," a song they shared at Miracle on Palafox, “We are shaped by the light we let through us.” Since Nov. 20, I’ve been shaped by the light shining all around me: first, by those on a stage shared by generous artists donating their time for Christmas Wishes; and, then by women wearing sweaters sparkling with twinkle lights. It is enough to keep me believing that miracles happen and anything is possible.