The Spirit of Giving
By Lynita Mitchell-Blackwell
“And the children will lead you and show you the way.” Jalen Keown is doing just that. The 14 year old 9th grader is showing us how we can make a difference just by showing up every and doing what we can when we can. This is the third year that Jalen has led an Operation Christmas Child Drive, collecting toys and packaging them for those whose parents cannot afford to “do up” Christmas. I was inspired and asked his mom, LaTosha Keown-Gray (my fellow FAMU Rattler alum) if we could interview Jalen for the magazine. And she said yes! Enjoy this heartwarming read.
BFMG: So Jalen, it is really a pleasure to sit down here with you today. I’m really inspired by the work that you’re doing with your Operation Christmas Child, this is amazing. Your mom has been posting on Facebook and rallying people up. She called me yesterday saying, “We’re still expecting you,” I’m like, “I’m going to be there, I promise.” So what inspired you to get started with this project?
Jalen: So my brother used to go to daycare at a church, and like around Christmastime, we drove by and saw people handing out boxes. My mom got interested and looked [the program] up online to see what it was. [Operation Christmas Child] was a great cause to donate things to people who are less fortunate. So we went in and we started getting boxes and buying stuff to put in the boxes. The first year that we did this, I hosted a party [at home] and only a few people came, but it was good.
BFMG: So your mom said that there were about two kids who came and their parents of course, and that was year one. It sounds like you were still inspired and said, “This needs to go on regardless of how many people come,” so then you did year two, and what was that like?
Jalen: Year two was about the same amount of people that came, but it was still fun.
BFMG: And now we’re at year three and I’m very happy to be here sharing this day with you. You have at least six other young people here with you, not including your own siblings, your brothers, as well as the parents of those children. And about how many boxes do you think you have completed today; just roughly?
Jalen: I’d say maybe 30.
BFMG: That’s awesome! So that’s 30 boxes, 1 to each child, so y’all are going to bless 30 different kids for Christmas this year; that is very exciting. Your mom shared that you have been appointed the spokesperson for the program for the Jack and Jill Chapter that your mother is a member of, but that you participate with as a team, is that correct?
Jalen: Well, a couple weekends ago, we had a Jack and Jill Chapter picnic, and then I volunteered to introduce my Operation Christmas Child party. And there was a representative there so I just talked to the whole chapter about it. And another representative volunteered to give us like the balloons and some magnets.
BFMG: So now, you’ve completed the project and now the Jack and Jill Chapter is going to have a packing party on the first weekend of December, correct?
BFMG: Okay. And my understanding is that there are 97 parents or families represented.
BFMG: And so if each one of those supplies packing materials for just one, that means that’ll be 97 more boxes, doesn’t that make you excited?
BFMG: Very cool, very cool. So as far as next year, what’s the plan for that?
Jalen: Well, next year, we might have some [members of] Jack and Jill over for the packing party and there will probably be more stuff to pack.
BFMG: And it sounds like you’re excited about that.
BFMG: And it doesn’t matter how many people come, they’re going to get packed.
BFMG: Now, how do they get to the kids?
Jalen: We delivery [them] to church and they hand them out to the kids.
BFMG: Do you ever have opportunity to be there when that happens?
Jalen: I haven’t personally, but I know that my piano teacher, her daughter knew a friend that was in another country that handed them out.
BFMG: You know, I really have to commend you, not only are you doing this project for children that you have never seen, but you are trusting to the point where you do what you can and then you hand it off to somebody who can identify children who can benefit. And so I just wanted to tell you that I’m proud of you.
Jalen: Thank you.
BFMG: You’re very welcome, and that’s the interview
To support the Operation Christmas Child efforts in your area, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.