‘Tis the Season to Spread Joy: A Holiday Village Volunteer Shares Her Story

‘Tis the Season to Spread Joy: A Holiday Village Volunteer Shares Her Story

Date: December 14, 2016

Rachael Lighty vividly remembers the young girl she met two years ago while serving as a volunteer for United Way of Central Maryland’s Holiday Village—an event that gives families in need a joyous and memorable holiday experience.

“Natalia* and her mom had recently moved out of a shelter, which can be a scary place for women and especially children,” recalled Rachael, executive director of external relations, communications and media relations at Laureate International Universities. “To sit with this adorable child, to read with her—you would have no idea she’d been living in such a distressing situation. That family really spoke to me. They were the personification of the kinds of families that United Way is helping by getting them out of shelters and back on their feet.”

For over six years, United Way’s annual Holiday Village events bring together more than 200 young professionals—part of the organization’s Emerging Leaders United (ELU) group—who shop, wrap presents and join families in need at a dinner celebration every holiday season. Last year, more than 40 families and nearly 100 children participated in the event, where they also made crafts and received presents from Santa.

Families are invited through United Way’s Family Stability programs, which help parents and children facing poverty gain access to housing, healthy food, healthcare, employment and education.

Rachael, who moved to Baltimore eight years ago, began volunteering for United Way and joined ELU as a way to network while giving back to the community.

“Not only have I been able to build really strong friendships with other professionals who are passionate about making a difference, but I’ve also grown professionally and personally through my commitment to ELU and United Way—just by the types of projects I’ve been involved in,” she said. “Importantly, I’ve gained a better understanding of the challenges that face our region.”

Rachael has been an active participant in several other United Way events, such as Dr. Seuss Reading Day and Harvest of Plenty, but she says Holiday Village has been her “absolute favorite.” Rachael enjoys volunteering for all three parts of the program—shopping for families based on lists they provide, wrapping presents and joining families at the dinner celebration—but loves attending the dinner the best.

“It’s really my favorite part, being able to interact with the families,” she said. “You get to see them receiving the gifts they want and so desperately need. You know that what you purchased is going to a family right there. It’s just a nice family event and a great example of the kind of impact that United Way has on communities across Maryland.”

Rachael said the holiday cheer shared by volunteers and the families at Holiday Village carries on throughout the year. “A lot of times you think about giving during the holiday season to families in need, but these families are in need year-round and are trying to get back on their feet,” she said. “The support that they feel during the Holiday Village dinner extends throughout the entire year as they continue to work toward a more stable future.”

To make the holidays brighter for local children and families in need, please make a donation today.

*Name changed to protect client confidentiality

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