December RichmondMom with a Mission: Maya Smart

It’s here, the final push is upon us.

Cookies are baked and waiting to be put in their tins. Stockings are hung from the mantel. Poinsettias are perfectly placed. Tips for the mail carrier, the newspaper delivery person, and the hair stylist are all in envelopes. Rolls of gift wrap are standing by…waiting to be put to their merry, masking use. The last batch of Christmas cards has found its way to the blue box on the corner.

These dwindling days are those wherein we rack our holiday-addled brains—attempting to determine what seasonal celebratory aspect we’ve possibly overlooked…

Time to take a few moments—and maybe a bit of budget—to make this week more wondrous for children in our own community.

Meet this month’s RichmondMom with a Mission: Maya Smart, 2014 Richmond Christmas Mother.

MayaHeadshot[Photos Courtesy of Richmond Christmas Mother Fund]

RichmondMom Cheryl:
Happy Holidays, Ms. Smart, and thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us! For those like me who are “transplants,” or for those who simply don’t know much about the incredible, charitable work that’s done via the Richmond Christmas Mother tradition, would you please tell us a little bit about the history?

Richmond Christmas Mother Maya:
The Richmond Christmas Mother Fund is celebrating 80 years of providing much-needed assistance to local families. For the last several years, the fund exclusively supported the Salvation Army’s Christmas Assistance program, which provides holiday meals, clothing and toys. This year, in honor of the 80th anniversary of the fund, we partnered with The Community Foundation to launch a competitive grant process with a goal of distributing funds to 80 different community organizations. I’m really proud to be the spokesperson for the fund in a year in which it is embracing a broad cross-section of our community’s nonprofits.

Please tell us a bit about what you do (and have already done!) as Richmond’s 2014 Christmas Mother.

As the 80th Richmond Christmas Mother, I have made more than 30 appearances to raise funds and awareness for the organization. I’ve touted the programs of our wonderful grantees on numerous television channels and radio stations and at Christmas events at The Jefferson and The Valentine. I’ve also attended the holiday gatherings of supporters such as McGuire Woods, the Richmond Henrico Retired Teachers Association, and the Junior Assembly, and Town and Country cotillions.

VCU Athletics graciously hosted a Richmond Christmas Mother Night at a VCU Basketball game, which included digital signage, concourse collection boxes and an on-court presentation. We raised nearly $20,000 that evening, which my husband Shaka and I matched to bring the game total to almost $40,000.

Family

I have also had the honor of seeing our Richmond Christmas Mother Fund dollars in action at grantee events, such as holiday parties hosted by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and the USO.

What were–and are–the goals for 2014?

For 2014, we hope to raise $275,000. As of Dec. 22, we’ve raised about $213,000 so we would still greatly appreciate donations. Interested supporters can visit tinyurl.com/xmasrva to contribute.

Beyond the financial goals, I also aimed to promote the work of our amazing grantees. For example, the fund helped the USO lift the spirits of active duty military and families with hot meals and small gifts as they passed through Richmond International Airport during the holidays.  We lightened the burden of holiday meals and gift-giving for families saddled with sick children’s health-care expenses through grantees such as ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation, CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation and Connor’s Heroes.  Our grant to Communities in Schools funded pantry staples for kids who typically rely on school meals, so they wouldn’t go hungry over winter break. 

Our Meals on Wheels grant will help deliver homemade holiday meals for hundreds of homebound seniors and disabled adults. Other grants ensured that families in need could get emergency assistance during the holidays, along with warm coats, hats and gloves. 

How is Richmond responding to the call to action?

Richmond has been extraordinarily generous. Everyone from elementary schoolers to grandparents have supported the effort with donations ranging from $1 to $10,000. All amounts are accepted–and greatly appreciated. 

What makes you proudest personally about your role? Any particularly touching moments?

Personally, I am most proud of the number and diversity of new donors supporting the campaign this year. It means a great deal to me that I’ve introduced many Richmonders to the fund and won their support for these great organizations.

MayaAtMike

Seeing the grant dollars in action at the ASK Holiday Party at the Children’s Museum was very touching. I took my daughter Zora with me so that she could see what all of my Christmas Mother activities were about—bringing support and holiday cheer to our community.  ASK helps local children with cancer and their families year-round with social, emotional, spiritual and even financial support.  And it was clear at the party that the organization plays a special role during the holidays by bringing 400 people together for an evening with Legendary Santa, crafts, clowns and dessert. Parents joked that the ASK event was like a reunion of the family you never wanted to be a part of, but treasure now that you’ve got it.  Children happily reunited with friends from the pediatric hematology and oncology clinic at VCU Medical Center and played with abandon—no need to explain baldheads or facemasks here. In this safe space, they were free to just be kids, albeit extraordinarily courageous, resilient ones.

I’m inspired by the children I met and I’m honored to raise funds on their behalf.

Please tell us how we can help!

Donate at tinyurl.com/xmasrva and spread the word via social media!

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

Shaka is extremely supportive of my work for our neighbors in need this holiday season, from the matching gift challenge at a game to picking up the slack at home when I am busy Christmas Mothering.

VCUFamily

And this will be a Christmas to remember for Zora as well. She brings up the Christmas Parade daily.

Please feel free to share additional info you’d like to share with the RichmondMom readership!

I’ve also used my Christmas Mother tenure to promote reading and diversity in children’s literature. So far this season, I’ve given out 900 books to children at various events and I hope others will be inspired to add books to their holiday gift picks as well.
MayaOnMission
Maya, we thank you so much for your extraordinary service as this year’s Christmas Mother…and for being such an inspirational RichmondMom with a mission.

Wishing you and yours the happiest of holidays!

[Note to RichmondMom blog fans: Be sure to add Maya’s blog to your regular reads!]