Santa Claus himself couldn't have given Orlando Chee and his family a better Christmas.
Chee, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, has three children and he wasn't sure if he could give them the Christmas morning they deserved. But a local child care and learning center went above and beyond to make sure this year's celebration was something special.
Chee was laid off from his job of 12 years and was doing work here and there, but could not secure anything permanent. He was looking for something full time, and asking around for leads. But nothing was coming to fruition.
"I said a 30-minute prayer before I knocked on the door," Chee said. "I had applied everywhere and was going from business to business to see if there was anything available."
Last Saturday, Dec. 17, Chee visited Triple R Child Care, where he'd been once before when he was in a tough financial spot. He went this time looking to see if anyone there had heard of any job openings.
What happened next was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Teacher Julie Fischer and her class of 4, 5 and 6 year olds were in the middle of a month-long project, which involved doing a different random act of kindness each day leading up to the week before Christmas.
One project they did was paint 80 rocks and add notes about peace, love, or happiness. They distributed them around Ahwatukee Foothills with messages of, "Make peace with someone," "Tell someone you love them," and "Make someone happy."
"It was something visual they could understand," Fischer said. "And we started to do the math about how many people, if each person did the message, it would touch."
And when Chee walked in on that Saturday, told Fischer his story, their project of giving back evolved to a different level. Fischer saw it as an opportunity to continue the lesson about how working together can really change someone's life.
"We kept talking about how kindness spreads kindness," she said. "And after chatting with (Chee) for awhile that day, I immediately emailed all my parents to see what we could do for him."
They came through in full force, and the whole center got involved. More than 50 families brought in more than $2,000 worth of gifts and cash donations, including money for Chee's December rent. He visited the school on Thursday to collect the gifts, not knowing just how generous the community had been.
"It's overwhelming," Chee said. "My kids were wondering if Christmas was coming together, and it definitely is. There will be tears shed on Christmas morning."
But for Chee, he didn't have to wait until Dec. 25 to get his gift. Fischer said that after she put out the email, asking the families if anyone knew of a job opening, she got four emails back with possibilities. Chee started his new job on Thursday morning.
"You can't say enough about how amazing the families have been," Fischer said.
"It shows Ahwatukee Foothills is a great neighborhood," Chee said."This was a man whose wheels were just spinning," said Triple R owner Diane Kirkpatrick, who had helped Chee out previously. "He needed a job to support his family, but he couldn't get anything to happen."
With a little help from the community, Chee and his family will be having a Christmas they won't soon forget.
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