Joe and Elnora Utrera help wrap gifts from the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club for teens in group foster homes. In the background, from left, Carrie and Howard Chipman, Andi Pettyjohn, Carmen Paiz and Dale Matheson
Special to AFN


Nearly 200 teens in group foster homes had a merrier Christmas last month because Ahwatukee residents opened their hearts – and their wallets – for the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club’s annual gift drive.

Often known as the forgotten foster children because their age excludes them as recipients of most children’s toy drives, the teens touched the heart of Andi Pettyjohn, who has run the drive for several years.

“The Kiwanis Club of Ahwatukee is very grateful for the outpouring of support for our Foster Youth Christmas Drive this year,” she said.

While the Kiwanians had hoped to hit the same number of group homes they did in 2016, donors’ generosity helped the club exceed that goal, nearly doubling the group homes from 13 two years ago to 22.

That meant 193 teens got gifts at a time when they likely would be overlooked by Santa.

“Thank you to the community for hosting collection boxes, donating money, gift items, gift cards, time to shop for gifts, for baking cookies, wrapping hundreds of gifts, sorting hundreds of gifts, and delivering hundreds of gifts,” she said.

Pettyjohn added that some employees of local companies, such as those at Vision Community Management, donated gifts to the foster youth instead of buying gifts for the “Secret Santa” they had done at work in years past.

“Some individuals volunteered to provide meals for a couple of the group homes,” she added. “Some community members also committed to providing a group home with birthday celebrations each month.”

Pettyjohn said teens’ responses were touching, adding that they were “very happy and very appreciative.”

“It brought tears to my eyes when one of the teen boys, after seeing a bag of gifts with his name on it said ‘Wow! You’re telling me all the gifts in here are for me?’” she said, adding:

“I won’t forget the wish list of one 15-year-old boy who wrote, ‘I will appreciate anything that I receive. Another boy said he wanted socks for Christmas. They all received necessary clothing items, some received jackets, blankets, and/or shoes, hygiene items and at least one fun gift, like a skateboard, hockey stick, tablet, gift card or so on.”

The response to the Kiwanians’ drive was so great that they received more clothing that needed as gifts, so the extra items will be delivered to the foster homes for distribution.

Extra money donated will be used to buy duffel bags “for as many kids as we can,” Pettyjohn said.

The needs of these teens don’t end when the Christmas tree goes down.

“Our help is needed desperately all year,” Pettyjohn stressed, adding that she is gratified than the drive helped increase the public’s awareness of the foster teens.

“Having gifts under the tree is great, but the real need is to have someone who cares enough to be willing to spend some time and possibly mentor some of these teens,” she said.

People interested in helping foster teens in any way throughout the year, or in more information about the Kiwanis Club, should email  

Residents dig deep to make foster teens' Christmas merrier.

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