WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published December 24, 2011, 12:13 AM

From Hospitals to Prisons, Efforts Made Across ND to Bring Christmas to Those in Unfortunate Circumstances

Deonna Rode knows how much it meant to her 6-year-old son that Santa came to see him in the hospital this week.

By: Teri Finneman, Forum Communications

Deonna Rode knows how much it meant to her 6-year-old son that Santa came to see him in the hospital this week.

As soon as Jamik heard bells, he knew the big moment had arrived at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo.

“He was really excited about it,” his mother from Wheatland said. “For somebody to take time out of their day, out of their busy life, it means a lot for people to come up here and see these kids.”

Jamik, who is battling leukemia, has been counting down the days until Christmas, which the family hopes to spend together at home, Rode said. But they will be back in the hospital by Wednesday for another round of chemotherapy.

“I just wish that everybody could be home, all the kids up here,” Rode said. “I just wish that they could be home.”

From hospitals to prisons to shelters, not everyone in North Dakota is spending Christmas in the happiest of circumstances. But efforts are made across the state to try to make these places cheerier during the holidays.

Sanford tries to transition as many patients as possible from the hospital to their homes before the holidays, but that isn’t always possible, said Carla Hansen, chief nursing officer. So in addition to Santa’s visit, Sanford organizes multiple activities throughout December.

Christmas carolers and local musicians come by to bring the sounds of the season, and the staff puts up decorations throughout the building. The hospital also works to accommodate families coming for holiday meals.

“It really depends on the situation, but for us what’s important is that our staff connects with the patients and their families and sees what would make it special for them, knowing that being in the hospital at Christmas is not something people ever desire to have,” Hansen said.

At St. Joseph’s Hospital in Dickinson, all of the patients get a gift and a note on their breakfast tray, said Robyn McChesney, Christian Effectiveness Committee chairwoman. Family members can gather in a special room to eat together.

The hospital staff sings Christmas carols the week of Christmas, and each department decorates, she said. For New Year’s, the hospital hosts a “Noon Year’s” celebration for staff and patients to toast plastic champagne glasses full of sparkling juice.

“We try and make the holidays as normal for the patients as possible so they don’t feel like they’re missing out or getting any further depressed at the situation,” McChesney said.

Inmates at the women’s prison in New England are also kept busy so the holidays aren’t quite as depressing, said Rachelle Brewer, administrator of the Dakota Women’s Correctional and Rehabilitation Center.

“It’s just kind of a lonely time for all of them to be away from their kids,” she said.

The women have spent the holiday season working on projects to help others, she said. They refurbished dolls the Salvation Army will provide to needy families and made Christmas cards for soldiers overseas. Inmates also decorate the doors of their dorm rooms, make gingerbread houses and play bingo.

The Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks also tries to keep spirits up during the holidays. The shelter for individuals and families leaving domestic violence puts up a tree and plans a holiday meal with input from clients about their favorite dishes.

Sometimes shelter residents leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs, said Laura Frisch, director of victim services.

“We make sure that they have gifts for the kids and gifts for themselves for the holidays because that’s a really hard time to be alone and away from your family in that place of starting over,” Frisch said.

Northlands Rescue Mission in Grand Forks also tries to bring normalcy to the holiday by hosting a Christmas party with pizza and presents. The Christian-based nonprofit ministry assists homeless men and women.

Executive Director David Sena said the organization handed out duffel bags filled with personal hygiene items and clothing for more than 120 people during the party.

“It’s not uncommon for us to have a new resident come that hasn’t had a good Christmas in a long time,” he said.

Fargo’s Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Safe Home also provides gifts to those in need.

The emergency shelter sees some kids who haven’t received much for Christmas, said Amy Noer, assistant program manager. She recalled one girl so happy to receive a new sweatshirt from the shelter that she kept looking at it and touching it.

“She just had this big smile on her face,” Noer said.

The safe home is decorated, and kids are asked about their favorite traditions and foods to try to incorporate them into the holiday and brighten their spirits, she said.

“We just try to make it as special as we can and try to be as positive as we can so that it can be as good for them as it is possible, being in their tough situations,” she said.