ORLANDO | Kristen White wanted to follow a personal tradition and sponsor someone in need during the Christmas holidays.
While she was a college student in Indiana, White had sponsored a child’s Christmas through the Salvation Army. The graduate student is spending a semester in Orlando and turned to Catholic Charities of Central Florida to help her find someone to sponsor.
Kim Latt, caseworker for the Refugee Youth Program, told her about John, a 16-year-old client she was helping prepare for the Florida State Assessment test, an exam required of all seniors for graduation. John’s family emigrated from Haiti after seeking political asylum. One of four children, John attends Wekiva High School and hopes to go to college to become a pilot, provided he gets the necessary scholarships.
When John got Latt’s call, he was surprised and happy. “You know many people who will wish you a Merry Christmas, but they don’t give you a gift,” he said. “Not knowing someone, you don’t expect anything. So when I heard this from Catholic Charities, it was the best thing ever.”
Latt asked John what he desired most, and he offered a humble reply: “Anything you give me, I will be grateful about it.”
But Latt pursued the question convincing John that it would be easier for his sponsor to shop for a gift if she knew what he wanted. He voiced the first thing that popped into his mind.
“Since I am a senior and college is next, you need computers for projects and notes,” he explained. “It was going to be hard not having a place to store my files.”
When White, his sponsor, heard his request she panicked because she didn’t know if she would be able to afford something John clearly needed.
“But then, a lot of prayer and thinking made me realize there is no reason that God would have connected me to Kim, and Kim to John, if I wasn’t supposed to do this,” said the 23-year-old. “Social work is a big part of my life as well as a love of Jesus and God. When you have, you give.”
White got to work and reached out to her friends on Facebook. Her faith and social work community raised $800 in 24 hours. Along with her own contribution and the help of Black Friday sales, she was able to buy a laptop, headphones, and a Netflix card because she wanted him to have, not only something he needed, but something just for fun.
“That’s the way I would decompress,” she said. “That was such a luxury that I took advantage of. I wanted that for him too. I’m really blessed that there are people that also see there is a need to give and feel God’s movement.”
White said her parents and Catholic school teachers raised her with a commitment to stewardship. This experience has shown her how God plays a huge part in her life.
“God proves himself every day, all the time. It can be in big ways and small ways, but he’s always there. When I was praying about it and wondering how I was going to do this, I realized God doesn’t do things that aren’t for a reason,” she said. “I’ve known that my whole life, but sometimes it just smacks you in the face. How can you even doubt for a second that He’s here with us? I’m just the person in between. God knew this was another thing that would help him (John) reach his goals.”
White made a special delivery to John’s house Dec. 13. The gesture of giving, along with the gift itself, mean a lot to John.
“For someone you’ve never known to do that for you and is thinking that maybe you need something for Christmas means more than I can express,” he said. “Some people skip over you like you don’t exist. She didn’t do that. She asked me what I wanted. She didn’t know me, but made this incredible gesture.”
White’s choice to give turned into a community effort to make it a reality.
“Everyone who donated is in some way connected to Christ,” she said. “To know that someone doesn’t get to have Christmas makes my heart sad, so I just like being able to give back.
“Social work is where I am dedicating my life, helping kids who, maybe aren’t experiencing the same things as John, but they’re going through a tough time,” she added. “I am going to be asking people for the rest of my life to help these kids.”