Annual Christmas Celebration helps unite Dover community

Michael Casson, president of DEMCO, speaks to community members who attended the fifth annual Christmas Celebration. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

DOVER — When families came together at the community center at The Willows Monday night for dinner and presents, it wasn’t Santa delivering gifts — it was the community.

Organized by Delaware Multicultural and Civic Organization and Men of Vision and Value, the fifth annual Christmas Celebration brought together residents from The Willows at Dover — formerly Capital Green Apartments — and surrounding neighbors.

The fifth annual Christmas Celebration, organized by DEMCO and M.O.V.V. at The Willows at Dover, served dinner to members of the community and handed out presents – including bikes – to children. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

“This is a homecoming for DEMCO because myself, as president and cofounder, literally grew up in a house that’s right behind this community center,” said Michael Casson, president of DEMCO. “Being able to celebrate with the community, to celebrate family, celebrate togetherness, celebrate the possibilities that could come from education and community and economic empowerment and working together, is really what this is all about.”

The event usually hosts more than 100 children and adults, serving them dinner, playing music and giving out gifts.

Each child who brings in their honor roll report card receives a bicycle, which are donated by DEMCO and Thunderguards, a motorcycle club. Even if the event runs out of bikes that night, that child will receive a bicycle, organizers said.

Larry Bryant, president of M.O.V.V., speaks to community members who attended the fifth annual Christmas Celebration. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

Other toys are donated by community members and organizations so that each child receives a gift. Adults can enter a raffle to receive one of five Visa gift cards, too. Three caterers provide dinner and dessert.

“I think it creates the family environment and potential and opportunity for exchange of wisdom and ideas, and hopes and aspirations of the youth and the families that are here,” Mr. Casson said. “Being able to begin to plan how we can actually achieve those goals together … happens when you sit down at the table as one and break bread.”

Larry Bryant, president of Men of Vision and Value, recalled that when the event first began, a little girl saw a bunch of children getting bicycles, but she wasn’t on honor roll.

A few months later, her grandmother stopped Mr. Bryant and asked if they were planning on hosting the Christmas Celebration again. He said yes.

Volunteers from Aunt Mary’s Kitchen and Tropical Delight catered and served dinner to community members at the annual Christmas Celebration at The Willows at Dover Monday night. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

“She said, ‘My granddaughter said this year she’s getting a bicycle,’” he said. “And for the last three years, she’s been straight As.”

For Teresa Bowers, who was there with her granddaughters Rainiyah, 8, and Jz’Nair, 10, it was that academic motivation she found important.

“It shows that it doesn’t matter where you come from, kids can do well in school,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Though the two may have struggled academically this year compared to previous years, Ms. Bowers said that she told her granddaughters to, “do your best, work hard and don’t let anybody put negativity in you.”

For Jz’Nair, who wants to be a teacher to help students who are struggling academically, the toys were a nice touch to the event, but it taught her a bigger lesson: “We can respect people,” she said.

Sarah Blount was attending the celebration with her grandchildren.

Azanaye Baines, 6, said her favorite part was how there were “lots of presents.” She had her eye on the bikes. The organizers, she noted, are nice.

“It’s a nice program,” Ms. Blount said. “A lot of places don’t do things like this. I appreciate it. It brings the community together; you get to see the kids and neighbors.”

Christina Williams, property manager for the complex, said that inviting the community to get together like this is important because it allows for everyone to sit down together.

“There are a lot of families that really work hard for their kids and want to see them flourish,” she said. “We just want to do things to bring together folks from the outside, especially those that grew up in this area, because they’re positive about it and they can encourage [residents] to be positive about their life as well.”