Thursday, January 2, 2020

For the Elf in You

Hello -

With a feeling, the times, and families we alter Aviana's Elves and each year because of you—grow. The reason to give may vary but what seems similar is seeing people as people, feeling their struggle, sharing in the overwhelm and giving with a lifted spirit in return.

A heartfelt thank you because each year we watch donations extend a helping hand, lift the weight, lighten shoulders, bring smiles, and warm cold homes and bodies. 

Your donations feed healthy snacks and dinner. They provide educational books, laughter around board games and outside activity so parents can focus on important tasks at work and around the house.

Although we shopped physically—boxes arrived constantly. 

A big thank you to The Spanier and Prero family for shopping. Thank you also for front door delivery! We can't tell you how much we appreciate and loved seeing gifts through your eyes ♥️✨

We knew there were only four families this year but four in need, so with emphasis. 

We had offers to help wrap (thank you!) but thought we could handle the amount on our own.

By the time deliveries were made, we were  d.o.n.e. with wrapping! 

But wait, what about our family and friend gifts 😆 Back to tape, scissors, and paper.

Things got wild and somehow spidered to every leg of our house. 

I'm happy my brother was visiting to box one night.

Jeff - box/label

Dave - box/wrap/no label (illegible writing)

Me - wrap/ribbon/label

We've never ribboned all the gifts before. I thought, four families, "I can do it!" Towards the end, I wanted to but couldn't stop because the gift looked bare in comparison 🌲

Rainey & Halen - Entertain and look cute.

Midway through, Rainey and her cousin Halen tuckered out.

Our hope was to bring Aviana's Elves internationally, yet closer to home. 
Thank you for helping us realize our dream, in a big way! 
We purchased every item and more on the lists and donated to Laos too.

This year for the family gift we made gift bags including warm hands and toes, Godiva Ferrero Rocher and Ghirardelli chocolates, Pokey sticks and Yan Yan, cookies, our letter, gift cards, and I can't remember what else...

A little about each family.

On a cold snowy Saturday night, we had mom and the girls over for dinner. While mom, Dave and I were busy in the kitchen making chow mein, the girls chose Rudolph, gymnastics, Frosty the Snowman, Spot It, all the while bouncing around with Rainey. After dinner we made triple chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate, and fresh whipped cream from scratch. 

The girls are please, thank you, hugs and kisses, goofy, and rough and tumble. In their own unique way, each is perfect. And so is mom. Our home is filled with fun and love but that night, the girls energy reminded of what we try hard to remember... and forget.

They stayed late and K fell asleep on the drive home. I couldn't stop staring at her in the rearview mirror and picked her up out of the backseat, handing her to mom who laid her on the couch. Next for dinner, the girls want to stay the night. We want too because physically and emotionally where one can't the other can. And isn't that what a reciprocal relationship, a friendship, and giving is about.   

While the girls were at school, I delivered the gifts the week before Christmas. Mom was overwhelmed by the amount of gifts and generosity. She handed me a beautiful plant, card, and two framed pictures of the girls. Through Google translate, she's written a lot about God's blessing, how grateful they are and how the girls wanted to give the pictures as a souvenir.

The day they opened gifts, she sent many attempted videos and pictures but the majority didn't come out.

We delivered on a cold night. JD answered the door. What a kind and good looking dad. He was in the middle of cooking dinner for his son, who was sitting close by on the bed. I used the little Spanish I know trying to tell JD  how good his cooking smelled, but quickly learned he and his son speak little English. Two and two came together in his need for pots, pans, and silverware.

Dave and I made about three trips back and forth filling their place with gifts. We suddenly felt awkward in taking so much of the little space they had. Much of our communication was in body language. J D had a sweet and grateful demeanor. We thanked him too and wished he and his son Feliz Navidad.

As we drove away, tears fell fast. I was unsure why, so on the short drive to our next family tried to answer my own question while pulling myself together. The tears were for this father cooking a warm meal on a cold night for his son. For a new and uncertain life in a different country than their own. For two making their way together. For being separated from their family for a "better" life. For how challenges vary greatly for people. For sharing time with them, if only for moments and although we couldn't communicate verbally.

I later spoke to, Adela, the translator who graciously helps us and these families dearly. We were deeply entrenched in conversation about the delivery of each family. She let me know how J D is so involved, how much he loves his son, and how he attends classes on nutrition. She also let me know when she inquired about "needs" J D's answer was "two forks, two spoons, a pot, and two glasses." I didn't think my heart could melt further for this man and his son, but it did. I heard glasses. That was new to me, so we're going to purchase them and soon drop them by.

We drove from JD's to this family. M opened the door, right as Dave was about to knock. M holds the record for cutest jumpy scared person I've ever seen. She invited us in and we introduced ourselves to K and E. E invited us to have a seat on the couch, "Oh thank you, but we'll be right back with some gifts." As we we're stacking gift upon gift, K appeared and offered help. As she was walking, she slipped on ice. I'm still unsure how she caught herself and the gifts she was carrying. Quite bendy. After many trips, the couch and most of a bed was full of gifts. While M was busy making dinner in the kitchen, E motioned to a two person kitchen table and offered tea. We thanked him but declined. After talking with K, M, and E for a short time, Dave and I were off to dinner.

In retrospect, I think we maybe should've accepted their offer to sit, visit, have tea. The truth is, I'd hit a wall and had a one track veg at dinner brain.

I've run back to the house two more times for late arrival books, so Google translate's opened conversation. M's a sweetheart and they make a beautiful family. M texts expressing their gratitude, while I thank her for opening her home. While leaving gifts, K's fluent in English, so we've had many conversations about school and her family back home. I feel deeply for how they are separated from their family, culture, and are unable to visit, celebrate the holidays, but instead focuses on what she has here. I admire her bright outlook. She's a doll, just like her sister. 

From talking to Adela (our translator) mom reminds me of our nephew's mom and my brother. She seems to struggle and isn't easy to get a hold of or pin down. For that reason and just like our nephew, her son D suffers the consequences. At the same time, I see how our nephew grew fast and learned quick. He retains those early lessons in his every day life today. I hope D follows in our nephews footsteps.

On the second time delivering D's gifts to the elementary school, Adela took me to meet him. D was on his way from P.E. back to class. He's a cutie. Fresh from Guatemala, we exchanged few words, but I could imagine him in the clothes we chose and zooming down the street on the lime green bike and black helmet. 

Adela called the second to last day of school and explained they had yet to reach mom for pick up or delivery. The principal and staff bounced ideas and came up with throwing a party for D on the last day, surrounded in students, letting him open his gifts. She wondered if I was okay with that. Of course! I wasn't able to make the party, but wondered how he would take his gifts home. They were going to put as many as would fit in his backpack.

We've been thinking about this little, hoping he's having a good break.     


All those gifts and we still had a substantial amount for Laos too!

Andrew's appreciative and thanks us again for our kind and wonderful efforts.

He asked if we'd like him to use the funds towards sponsoring a child in the nursery or to support the milk program at the orphanage. I thought both sounded great, so let him know whichever program's most in need.

On our way to the airport leaving Laos last February, we spoke with our driver, Ouseng, about how best to help in Laos. His answer looped to Andrew.  

Early last year, I asked Ouseng if he could send pictures of the students that to share with donors.

 He included all.

   There are so many videos of Andrew and the great work he does in Laos. Here's one of many.

~ Our letters were on thick light blue textured card stock this year ~

Ahhh... it's too dark to take the picture and the scan came out black and white (ick)! I'll replace this with a better one soon, but can't let one more day go by.

This letter is long overdue. Thank you for your patience. The donations you give mean so much to us, to our families. We witness the affect in a variety of ways. What I've written barely scratches the surface of what these eyes see, so I struggle with how much to include in the final letter. I want to write a lot, but know it's a lot. 

When the heart speaks the body moves, so our path shifted this year. With these families and Laos, all is well in mind, body and spirit.

Together we did so much!

We love you,

Dave, Jen & Rainey 

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others" 

- Ghandi

Friday, October 25, 2019

Aviana's Elves

Dave and I were talking about the ways Aviana’s Elves has changed and evolved over the past nine years with hospital care packages, the homeless shelter, Acts for Avi, hospice, Aviana's Peeps, and caring for the students within our community. Your empathy, love, and kindness has touched the hearts and caused ear-to-ear uplift to more people than we’ll ever know. Most of all, our hope for these gifts and cards is an underlying, “we see you. We care. You are not alone.”

Over the past couple years, matters of the soul coupled with sizing issues caused internal stir. Who felt the sway? When the heart speaks, the brain and body should follow. 

Starting with Guatemala, it’s been a dream to take Aviana’s Elves international. After looking into the details, translation and safety caused us to postpone for the year.

The week before a January trip to Laos and Thailand, we wondered about this year, but everything happens if you let it, and happened it did.

Have you been to Laos? Visiting a predominant Buddhist country was a dream fulfilled. Of all our travels, Dave and I have never been so graciously moved by a country and culture. Through hotels, restaurants, stores, and coffee shops—there were kind quiet voices. In the midst of busy outdoor markets, there was tranquility, along with warm smiling faces. What a difference in never being asked to purchase a product. Actually the opposite, I inquired about bamboo straws and a beautiful girl with a glowing smile (and being) answered my question then followed with, “… but you don’t have to buy them.”

 The kids are bright-eyed and eager to learn. They proactively engage for the sake of conversation and thanked us for letting them practice their English. 

We couldn’t stop thinking of and talking about the inherent good in the people and their children. Our minds spun with the pride they have and take in their heritage, food, each other, and environment. Dave and I spoke of how we’ve never experienced an undercurrent of such peace and love, which is mind-boggling in light of their history and extreme poverty. 

If not familiar with The Secret War:

- from 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24-hours a day, for nine years, making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.

- 30% of the bombs dropped did not explode and to this day, 40 years later, are armed and active. Tens of thousands of Laotian people have been killed or maimed. Because the bombs look like toys, they are tossed around before exploding, so 40% of the victims are children.

- since 80% of the people depend on their land to eat and live, the Lao people have no choice but to risk their lives working in the fields covered in unexploded bombs.

Extreme Poverty:

- 44% of Lao children under 5 years old are affected by stunting, a highly common condition in Laos.  Stunting is caused my maternal undernutrition before and during pregnancy. 

- this video is older, but still speaks about the state of the children in Lao orphanages.

- one of the main people helping the children in Laos is Andrew. He's an everyday angel who's done wonders. I frequent his sight and have been in direct contact inquiring about target needs.
 I lay awake thinking about what I read, then those we met along the way. These people have and continue to experience daily hardship. Basic needs aren't being met, yet as a culture their attitude reflects otherwise. 

Being in their country is otherworldly, as smiling, treating people with respect, a light heart, and a wicked sense of humor is second nature. We carry their positive energy, presence, and easy going way of life the best we can. Because of their continual love, this year’s Aviana’s Elves came clear, so I researched how to give, then asked around. We and our close friends Dave and Kim visited four days but wished to stay, revisit, and above all help.


Need is high this year and stretch borders. Some believe we should care for those within our country first. Because Aviana was from outside the United States, our pull is to help those we see in dire need when traveling internationally, but of course, within our community too.

We have an influx of Guatemalan refugee families in our town. We're grateful to have three for Aviana's Elves, so far. You're familiar with one very special family from last year. Yes, the mother and two sweet little girls =) 

We have lots of meaningful change happening—making for a more effective Aviana’s Elves. I've decided to meet with our mom's to help determine exact need, so hopefully zero donations run amiss in sizing. If that means taking mom and the girls shopping (lack of transportation) and so on, we'd love to.

I'm sorry to take so much of your time, but we value and think deeply about how and where your/our donations are best utilized.

There's so much need in the world, so with each change, understand the want or desire to follow in another direction. Goodwill is goodwill and sharing love continues to make our world spin in an uplifting way.  

Boy is it time to end this post. I have more informative donation details but after the haunting holiday!

✨ ♥️✨ 

Jen & Dave

P.S. Can you believe we got started right after last year's end and this email is this late? Change can be a ton of work.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Thank you

A change was stirring. For the past year, ideas swirled. For the protection of our students and a further push on quality, my vision was to bring Aviana's Elves closer to home.

Families are chosen with a careful eye and heart. Needs are important, but wants are too. This year, hearing more from our families was central. What are their interests? What are their favorite colors? Where do they shop? Grocery shop?

As far back as I can remember, if my mom, dad, or Gary hurt, I hurt too. Children are resilient, but sensitive too. For this reason, we think it's important for parents to feel our love, but for their kids to see them cared for too. Parenting is magical, but dang is it difficult too. Instead of a family gift or shirt only, we included our parents in a more meaningful way this year.

Aviana's Elves grabs my heart in a different way each year. This one holds a place because although separate, we shifted together and for our families. You shopped in record numbers! The boxes on our doorstep and at our post office were filled with warm blankets, hand picked books, journals, games, toys, painting supplies, essential oil blends, and clothes. Donations were abundant and used for the purchase of thick encyclopedia books filled with animals for J, tiny clothes and diapers for the triplets, Spiderman colors for E, five wanted and needed fry pans for our mommas, warm gloves, snow pants, jackets, and boots for too many kids to count, basketball clothes and snacks for W, and much more! We basked in your cards, your letters, in Aviana's name hand written over and over by you - the people we love most. The more time that passes, the less she's talked about, so I'll never be able to tell you how much you mean.

With so many people in need around the globe, we thank you for helping us while helping our families.

The majority of gifts are delivered to the middle school and picked up throughout the week. This year we took two Tahoe Lake Elementary families. We delivered straight to their homes. This was different for us. Because one of the families recently arrived from Guatemala and the two little girls were part of a school program I worked over the summer, I really wanted them as part of Aviana's Elves.

We knocked on their door. A Guatemalan momma with a warm smile greeted us; her adorable daughters hovered behind. M speaks little English, but gestured for us to come inside. We introduced ourselves then handed her what gifts we carried thus far. With what remains of my three years of middle and high school Spanish, I let her know we'd be back with more. As with many Spanish speaking families, their children help translate. On the second trip, I turned from resting the gifts on the table to find K with her arms wrapped tight around Dave's legs, thanking him. To see Dave hugging this small Guatemalan beauty both melted and broke my heart.

Aviana's Elves works in dichotomous ways, but the good always outweighs the hard.

The warmth of this family and their home. The girls bouncing the room with their mom beaming. K counting row after row of her gifts, "uno, dos, tres, quatro..." Dave and I captured and forever tucked these memories away.

Eight years ago, I crossed the hardwood and hopped onto the computer in a low and desperate holiday moment. In hopes of lifting my spirit, I threw an idea into the screen. You responded. And keep coming back. I sit in awe. By you. By the families who thank us. All I can do is thank you. And them because selfishly we've been gifted far more than we give.

Wishing you peace.

Our love always,

Dave, Jen & Rainey

Sprinkles of Rainey

The boxing begins.

We start overtaking other rooms of the house ; )

Rainey loves to help. We're in a constant vacuum, vacuum, vacuum cycle.

Upstairs takeover. The Spaniers are on their way to wrap = )

The four of us wrapped just about all these boxes...
with a little help from Dave's old fashioneds.

♥️ Delivery Day ♥️

The presents overflowed this room, but I forgot to take a picture of the other.

The gift cards were divided into the family envelopes.

Along with this.

A letter was included in each envelope too.

It was on colored texture paper, but for some reason when I scanned the letter the last time it showed stark white. Blah ; /

Family envelopes


There wasn't any messy hair this year (okay, maybe a little). 
Behind every purchase, boxed, wrapped, and delivered gift, there was peace. 

How blessed we are to have people like Dora, Marcy, Maria, Jamie, and Adela. They found our families and gathered what matters most. And to deliver the gifts, a big thank you to Dora, Marcy, Liz and Terri.
You're our eyes and heart.