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Last-minute gifts arrive for Light One Candle subjects

At the end of this year's Light One Candle holiday series, candidates in three of the holiday-giving stories had yet to benefit from the community's generosity. But a Christmas day wrap-up story did create a flurry of donations — and a few more candles were successfully lit, nonprofit leaders say.

Three autistic teenage boys residing at a Living Opportunities group home, in need of clothes and toys, hadn't receive any donations just before Christmas. But Justin, Rayne and Anthony finally received T-shirts and sweaters by some last-minute Santas, said Jim Gochenour, Living Opportunities development director.

The boys also got four nonviolent DVDs and specialized sensory toys for Rayne. Community givers also sent various other toys, including a remote-control robot and $300 in cash, he said.

Living Opportunities also sponsored a woman who suffered a brain injury who was seeking sponsorship to Studio Sfumato. Living Opportunities and the Mail Tribune received calls from people interested in sponsoring Jenny, but nothing has come of the calls as of yet, said Gochenour.

A blended family, nominated by Southern Oregon Goodwill, hadn't received any gifts or goods when the wrap-up story went to press. But, as of Tuesday, the family had received a donation of clothing for one of the girls. And Goodwill's Family Strengthening program will be working with the YMCA for a discounted membership for the family, said Betty Welden, Goodwill director.

Each year many Rogue Valley residents give generously. Still, some wonder whether candidates are truly deserving of help. The Dec. 20 story featuring a Goodwill family and their request for a "Y" membership was deemed sad and disappointing by Catherine La Prova of Medford, in a letter to the editor.

"Which one of us wouldn't want a gym membership, creams, lotions, candles, tools and, to top it all off, a digital camera?" wrote La Prova.

Readers should know that Jackson County nonprofit agencies carefully screen their Light One Candle nominees. But they also try to protect the candidates' privacy, said Welden.

"We try hard to chose people who are working hard to get out of the situation they're in. But everyone we work with has pride, and we don't reveal everything that may have happened in their life," Welden said.

A struggling family wanting a YMCA membership might seem like a frivolous request to some. But adult and childhood obesity is epidemic. Getting people moving in healthy ways is not only good for the body, engaging in group activities also creates social skills. A partnership program between the YMCA and Goodwill, called "Steps for Success," helps parents and kids learn to interact together, she said.

"Kids are sitting in front of television and playing video games. That's not interacting. The Y brings the families together in a safe place to do things together. Anything that will give you one normal activity is one small step forward. And those small steps really count," Welden said.

Another reader complained that candidates had requested items that were too specific, such as matching towels in blue or green. Others complained they were reading about requests which were too generic, such as requests for food or rent money.

A family nominated by the Maslow Project had suffered the loss of a child — the apparent victim of domestic violence at the hands of an ex-wife's boyfriend. The family asked for assistance toward rent, bills and money for family grief counseling. They could also use some toys and clothing for their children, said Ally Kimberling.

So far there have been a couple of responses, but nobody has actually donated anything yet, said Kimberling.

"What they are really in dire need of is rent assistance. We're trying to track down resources, but there just isn't much left this time of year," she said.

Effects of the declining economy have hit many people in the Rogue Valley. Even those on the giving side of the Candle series might be feeling anxiety about their future, Welden said.

"Unfortunately, I don't think there could be much you could ask for that some people wouldn't object to right now," Welden said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.