Beginning the new year with our Saint John’s Playgroup

A new year, a new session, new faces, new friendships and many, many laughs and smiles. THAT is how our new year has begun at Saint John’s on the Lake.  Our playgroup has soared to places we never dreamed of, going strong for 15 months! 

When I hear quotes from the residents at Saint John’s like “A laugh is worth a million words” or “That boy with all the energy right there, he needs TWO mom’s” my heart can’t help but just melt.  Quotes like these show us that the residents are engaged, they are participating and simply benefiting from our young, lively and spirited kids!

When our TOAM children ask me if specific Saint John’s members “will be here today” or when I see our children physically help “decorate” our resident friends with beads and hats and blowers {for a new year’s countdown and celebration} we know that this very unique playgroup is better than ever.

This partnership is a two way street, both parties benefiting tremendously from the time spent together.  Although our children are young now, I know over time, the lessons they learn from these cross generational experiences will be used in their young adult future and partnership building endeavors!!  

Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee’s Giving Tree Project

Kristen proposed an end of the year project that suited our families perfectly! The Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee hosts a Giving Tree Project with the hope that they can provide gifts to 13,000 people. We grabbed 30 tags this year and our generous TOAM family committed to one or more tags instantly! This project allowed families to practice thinking of others at a time of year where our little ones are apt to think of their list of wants. 

On a very cold morning, we packed ourselves into my car with 30+ gifts and delivered them to a very grateful school.  The NPC did, in fact, fill all 13,000 wishes for gifts. How amazing is that? We are looking forward to doing this project again in 2017. We hope to grab even more tags next time.  Thank you to all who participated!

Cloud 9 Crafting to Warm hearts

Last year, my father went into rehabilitation care and we spent our first Thanksgiving without him. His health’s quick deterioration and his eventual death left me feeling heartbroken and devastated, but it also served as a time of reflection and teaching. With a four month old in my arms, a spunky three year old at my side and a very confused father not understanding his terminal diagnosis, I found the need to embrace each small moment as it was. Annie’s constant need to be close, Mia’s dance routines, my nephew’s Star Wars chatter, and my dad’s gentle chuckles were small moments at the time and now are memories that I hold dearly in my heart to this day.

The generosity of others during those days also filled my heart with love and gratitude. A childhood family friend and her daughter came to sit with my dad and daughters and nephew so my mom, brother, sister-in-law and I could share a dinner out. Another family friend sat with us and shared many stories from “back in the day,” which brought light and joy to all of us. Meals filled my mom’s refrigerator from family members. These kind gestures reminded me of the precious impact of reaching out to others.

All that we have to give at any given moment: the true meaning of the holiday season.

A few months ago, a TOAM board member suggested a December activity for residents at long-term rehabilitation facility. I felt compelled to realize this mission because I knew just how much it could mean to both the residents and their families.

I reached out to Kelcey at Cloud 9 Workshop to help us with this project.  Kelcey can bring out artistic creativity in every child she meets. I know because I’ve seen her do it with my daughter and countless other children. She eagerly partnered with us to create holiday lanterns to share with TOAM’s playgroup friends at St. John’s on the Lake, an assisted living facility in Milwaukee.

Thirteen families joined in Cloud 9 Workshop’s studio space, and the gifts shared in this one hour far surpassed the beautiful lanterns that we will give to our friends at St. John’s. The glowing smile of a daughter looking to her mom for affirmation, the child meticulously painting each space on the jar with glue, the little boy finding just the right piece of tissue paper to add color to the lantern, the sweet baby “squawks” and “coos” in the background, the mom who got very little sleep the night before realizing “I made it out of the house today!” and the grandma who led her granddaughter to her first Cloud 9 experience. The studio space was filled with all that we have to give in that moment.

As our little ones share the finished products next week at St. John’s, I plan to put aside my “to do lists” and my hurried thoughts to simply soak in the gifts that will shine brightly in the resident’s rooms. The full circle of giving and receiving the lanterns will be complete, but the ripples of joy and love will carry on.

Lynn (mom of Mia and Annie)

Thurston Woods Reading Buddies with Special Guests

Today we had a very special mission with the Thurston Woods fifth graders! In addition to creating Aurora Borealis art for the Clinton Rose Senior Center, we also welcomed Fox 6 News to our event.  The kids were all excited that other people in our city recognize the good work they’re doing! It’s neat to think that through this news segment, more people might learn about what we do at Toddlers and Kids on a Mission. We would absolutely love new members to the TOAM family but we also hope that people will see that reaching out into their community is completely doable (and essential). 

If there is one thing I consistently hear from our TOAM parents after a Reading Buddies event, it’s that they are overwhelmed by just how wonderful the Thurston Woods students are. It was evident today as soon as we entered the school. We were “officially” greeted by Student Council members and escorted down to our reading spot. Today, one parent told me that she hopes her children are as poised, kind, and thoughtful as the students she met.  I agree, they are shining role models for our young children and we are ever so grateful for our partnership with them. 

We give special thanks to Deandra Corinthios and Del Canon from Fox 6 News for joining us. Del, we wish you a happy retirement!


Here is the story that aired on the news: Do something that is important: Kids as young as toddlers learn the value of volunteering”

Make a Difference Day in Harambee

It was sunny and nearly 60 degrees on the early November Saturday TOAM families (along with the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative (HGNI)) gathered in the Harambee neighborhood in Milwaukee. This particular mission was to help elderly homeowners prepare their yards for winter. The TOAM mission was part of a bigger event that day sponsored by Interfaith Older Adult Programs in Milwaukee. All in all, more than 1,100 volunteers ended up helping over 220 homeowners in need!

TOAM families worked (and played) together to provide raking, hedge trimming, brush-hauling, weed pulling, and small tree removal. Everyone worked so efficiently that they were able to expand their help past the two homes originally assigned! TOAM families raked other neighbors’ yards and even helped remove garbage from an empty lot. The children even befriended a kitten who was recently orphaned. At the end of the day, much more was accomplished than caring for the landscape needs of the properties.

One of the homeowners beamed with happiness just as we were saying goodbye. The love and pride she had in her home was evident by her carefully tended potted plants, rose bushes, and trees throughout her yard. She mentioned how it was now too difficult for her to physically manage these things on her own. She was so grateful for the time and love we put into sprucing up her yard and exclaimed, “It looks so different! Thank you so much.”

Another mission has been accomplished! I am so grateful for these opportunities to show love to  our community. These moments are so important to parents, kids, and the people we serve. Thanks for joining us!

Debby Berenz