It isn’t typical for a 9-year-old to reject the joy of crafting a Christmas list from scratch, but that’s exactly what 22-year-old Setauket native Hailey Del Giorno encountered.
Del Giorno, a Ward Melville High School graduate, recently launched a campaign to raise money to buy holiday gifts for children she works with at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York in Wading River. She works in Mary’s Cottage with girls between ages 9 and 16, providing foster boarding home care, residential treatment care and adolescent development. And while she said she knew raising funds would be a challenge, she did not expect the toys list to be equally as difficult.
“They seemed hesitant at first,” Del Giorno, who is now studying psychology at St. Joseph’s College, said about the young girls’ reluctance to share their holiday wishes. “They didn’t seem to want to get their hopes up.”
Del Giorno landed the Wading River job over the summer to satisfy her desire to help others in need and has since been working closely with the young girls, many of whom come from abusive or neglectful homes, every weekend over shifts that could run as long as 12 hours. Since June, she has been working on developing relationships with these girls, but it was not easy, she said.
The group did not openly trust Del Giorno at first, she said, often misconstruing her caring demeanor as intrusive or fake. But she made it a point to squash those misconceptions by working longer and longer shifts on a week-by-week basis.
“These girls have tendencies to be defensive, untrusting and resistive to authority figures because of what they have been through,” she said. “When I started getting to know the girls, I wanted to show them that I had a true interest in learning who they were as people.”
And with each passing week, and each blossoming relationship, Del Giorno said she saw the upcoming holiday season as an opportunity to give back and show the girls that she’s on their side.
Her co-workers and even family members jumped into action. The goal was to raise $5,000 for the girls so Del Giorno and her team could buy them holiday presents and take them out to dinner on Christmas somewhere in the community. She launched an online crowd-funding page via Gofundme.com and has since raise close to $2,000 of that goal, with more than two weeks left, and has spent weeks polling her girls with hopes of assembling a holiday items wish list.
“Hailey I’m so proud of you,” supporter Belinda Groneman wrote on the page. “You have a big heart”
Maria Adams also chimed in.
“God bless you for caring,” she said alongside her donation.
And even when she did get an answer, they were still selfless ones. Several of the girls Del Giorno approached used their holiday gift wishes as opportunities to request items for siblings or loved ones instead, including anything from Barbie dolls to paint brushes and portable Casio keyboards.
In the end, Del Giorno said she hopes to make a lasting impression on the girls and remind them that family does not have to be just along their bloodlines.
“In my family, we always practiced the concept of giving back to the less fortunate,” she said. “After [my family] learned to care about these girls the way I did, we felt we needed to give these girls an extra special Christmas … They are all unique and special in their own ways and shine so positively when they are passionate and excited.”