By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and three of their best elves made a special visit to Linden Elementary School.
For 15 years, they’ve thrilled the children through the Letters from Santa program at O.H. Close and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facilities.
“This is a real honor for the youth inmates, and they have to earn it to be a part of the program,” says Katie Henne, project coordinator, and parole agent at the two facilities.
Eleven classrooms got 231 letters back from Santa and his band of helpers. The stationary for the letters was provided by Free Venture, a program involving public/private partnerships for youth offenders as a way to learn a skill they can take with them when released. The stationary was designed by the youth, and each letter was handwritten to personalize it for each child.
“The wonder, the excitement, the innocence, just the experience of writing to Santa and hearing back is a thrill for these kids,” said Linden Elementary Principal Mary Evans.
Santa was a big hit with the school children.
“I flew from Alaska to Sacramento this morning, it was snowing like crazy at the North Pole, the elves are tired, they’ve been working so hard,” Santa told the wide-eyed captive audience.
Speaking of the elves, Santa calls them Huey, Dewey, and Louie after the three Disney characters. One of the kids asked the tallest elf how he got so tall.
“Enjoy the candy canes we’re passing out, but if you want to be big and strong, drink your milk and finish everything on your plate,” the elf said.
There were many kids and many classrooms with Santa spending about 10 minutes in each class. When asked how they felt about seeing the most famous Christmas characters right in front of them, the kids responded with, “It makes me feel happy, I’m so excited.”
Another said, “I feel good all year, but at Christmas, I feel super happy.”
And still another said, “I loved the candy canes the elves were handing out, and I really loved to see Santa.”
Henne said this is great for the youth offenders in their rehabilitation. Working together, helping others, seeing a project through from start to finish, and keeping a promise made to the children are just a few of the benefits learned.
Santa left them with some advice.
“I want you to study hard, do what your parents and teachers tell you and I’ll be back before you know it,” he said. “I’ll see you on Christmas night, but you won’t see me because you’ll be sleeping, right?”