This year, Robert Johnson provided 25 children with $100 each to spend however they wish.
ROSEBURG, Oregon – For the past six out of seven years, Robert Johnson has made it his mission to help make the holidays brighter for Umpqua Community College (UCC) students and their families. The UCC alumnus takes Transfer Opportunity Program (TOP) students’ children shopping each year and gives each child money to spend however they wish. The annual tradition has turned Johnson into a holiday hero.
“One of my earliest memories is when I was younger and my mom wasn’t in a position to buy gifts for us,” Johnson said. “My brother and I each got $75 to spend at [a department store]. I will never forget that. Each year, the goal is to replicate that memory.”
TOP specifically serves academically at-risk students, including students who experience poverty and students who have learning and/or physical disabilities, so they can be successful in college. When Johnson attended UCC more than a decade ago, he was a TOP student.
“One program that definitely helped me get where I am today is TOP,” he said.
After graduating from UCC in 2008, Johnson went to Portland State University. After that, he attended law school. He is now an attorney in Roseburg. In 2011, he established a gift-giving fund in which many people donate through the UCC Foundation.
This year’s shopping expedition took place on Thursday, Dec. 5. Armed with shopping carts, Johnson and an army of kids and their TOP staff helpers hit the aisles at the Roseburg Fred Meyer store. The shoe department, clothing racks, sporting goods section, and toy aisles—kids and carts were seen everywhere. While each child (25 in all) was gifted $100 to spend, not all of them were there to shop for themselves.
“I am such a proud mom,” one TOP student said. “I’m standing back here watching her and she’s not buying any gifts for herself. She’s picking things out for her cousins. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
For students like Anne Hadwen, the shopping trip was a lifesaver that allowed her to provide presents for her 11 month-old son, Mason.
“Christmas is so hard,” she said.
Hadwen is currently working to complete her AAOT at UCC. She then plans to transfer to Portland State. Her goal is to become a probation officer and drug and alcohol counselor.
“Being a single parent and going to school full-time is so tough,” she said. “I didn’t get to have Christmas when I was a kid so this is a big deal.”
At the end of the shopping frenzy, the receipts added up to just under $3,000. Johnson says this will be his final year to play the holiday hero role. With a second child on the way, he and his wife are ready to focus on their growing family. If you, or someone you know, is interested in keeping the tradition alive, please contact the UCC Foundation.
About Umpqua Community College
Nestled in the beautiful North Umpqua River Valley, Umpqua Community College is the regional center for higher education in Douglas County, Oregon. UCC provides high quality college degree programs, workforce development, and community learning opportunities.
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