A tree strung with white lights waited in a kindergarten classroom Friday as Cottonwood Elementary School students decorated handmade ornaments. 

Kindergartners painted snowflakes and reindeer faces made of popsicle sticks. They glued on buttons, shiny accents, eyes and red puffs for Rudolph noses. Soon, the ornaments will hang from the tree's branches.

Later this week, trees decorated by Cottonwood students will decorate the living rooms of eight families at the school who could not afford their own. The families will receive wrapped gifts to go under their trees as well.

Cottonwood employees and families worked with the Casper Family YMCA after-school program to provide the trees and decoration materials. Community members donated gifts through a donation tree at the Casper Family YMCA.

“I think that it’s typical Wyoming attitudes, that we’ve come together to support these kids,” principal Brian Doner said. “We’ve been really lucky to have the partnership with YMCA and the work we’ve been able to do support families has been really cool.”

The idea for the project started with Morgan Harper, a coordinator with the YMCA afterschool program at Cottonwood. She once helped decorate and deliver trees with a class in high school, she said. The program leaders and school faculty organized a donation tree in the YMCA lobby with requests for gifts for eight families, she said.

Within a few days, 90 percent of the needed gifts had already been donated, said Amanda Konings, director of child care services at the YMCA.

“I love it, I’m very happy with the result,” Harper said. “I’m just glad we got to partner with the school and make it a bigger deal and get it out in the community more.”

Cottonwood nurse Raechyl Dunnuck contacted the families for gift ideas for the household members and built a spreadsheet that would maintain the families' confidentiality, school counselor Afton Jennings said.

Students created the ornaments for each unique tree. Fourth-graders on Friday cut out paper snowflakes. Third-graders had already completed their tree, which was decked out in clear glass ornaments filled with colorful candy sprinkles. The first-grade classes created a snowman-themed tree, topped with a snowman head sporting a red top hat.

Kindergartner Fabiano Servin concentrated Friday as he glued colored accents to his snowflake ornament. He smiled when asked about his Christmas tree at home. It has yellow lights like the one in the classroom, but with pinecones and green and purple ornaments, he said. He hopes another kid will like the tree the class is decorating just as much.

“They’re for somebody else that doesn’t have one,” he said.

Fourth-graders wound white lights around a white tree after finishing their ornaments last Friday. Adyson Myers thought about the families without money for presents after she finished her ornament and sat at her desk Friday. The decorated trees and gifts will be delivered to the recipient families Dec. 18.

“They wouldn’t have a Christmas,” she said. But now they will have presents and a special tree from the school, which is “really cool,” she added.

Making ornaments is a way all the students in the school can be involved in the project and learn about giving, third-grade teacher Maureen Fretland said.

“They know that they’re doing this for somebody else,” she said. “That’s a big thing for me, is to let them know that this is a way they can give to someone else who doesn’t have their own.”

This isn’t the first time this year the YMCA and Cottonwood have teamed on a donation project, Jennings said. They also involved students in a drive for Thanksgiving meals for 10 families, and the school held a celebration with turkey bowling and a pie walk.

“From giving for the decorations all the way up to meeting the needs of the families, everybody going above and beyond is just amazing to me," Jennings said. 

Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner

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