Ed Grisamore

Reindeer Gang: Hephizibah children all have Christmas wishes

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Reindeer Gang is an annual holiday feature that identifies individuals and families with needs. Gift cards and donations can be mailed to the Hephzibah Children’s Home, 6601 Zebulon Road, Macon, GA 31220 (478-477-3383). Online donations to the Hephzibah Children’s Christmas Fund can be made at hephzibah.org.

Shirley Duncan has been on the staff at the Heph­zibah Children’s Home for the past 26 years. She is director of public and church relations.

She also knows what it’s like to live there.

A member of the Lumbee Indian tribe in North Carolina, she was placed at Hephzibah as a teenager in the 1970s.

Earlier this week, she asked one of the teenage girls at Hephzibah what she wanted for Christmas.

The young lady’s name is Quinesha Oliver, and she has an 11-month-old son living with her at the home.

She told Duncan she had “never had a Christmas.’’

“When you don’t expect anything, you’re not disappointed,’’ she said.

What Quinesha said, and also expressed in a letter, touched Duncan’s heart. Some of the staff members treated Quinesha to a steak dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday in September. She had never ordered steak from a menu in a restaurant.

Quinesha said both her parents are incarcerated. She is one of 20 children, with 10 older brothers. She arrived at Hephzibah in January, a week after her child was born.

Peter Bagley, the executive director at Hephzibah, said of the 44 Georgia teens (ages 13-18) who are at the home, there are 14 teen mothers and their 14 children.

The typical resident is a teenage girl who has suffered some form of abuse, poverty and deprivation, he said. In some cases, they have had to care for younger siblings.

Bagley said there are about 9,000 children in homes and foster care in Georgia.

Readers of The Reindeer Gang can mail Christmas cards and gift cards to the children or make an online contribution to the Heph­zibah Children’s Christmas Fund.

In the end, however, Bagley said he knows what all of the children really want for Christmas.

“Stuff is just stuff,’’ he said. “These kids are missing their families.’’