As professionals in the toy and game industry our jobs are richly rewarded when we help children grow, learn, feel wonder and joy, when we make them smile and laugh.
This is a short story about three people I met recently: a boy named Sasha, an Orthodox priest named Luke, and Carl a Mennonite pastor. It’s a story about wonder, joy and a whole lot of smiles.
Let me first tell you about Bishop Luke, the Patriarch of St. Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral in Philadelphia. He called me out of the blue one day 2 weeks ago, directed to me by a mutual friend. He had learned that I was connected to the toy industry, and, with Spring approaching, he harbored hopes of building an outdoor play area for some children under his care. As we talked, I learned the children were Ukrainian refugees. I was taken aback to learn there are 12,000 Ukrainian refugees currently living in Philadelphia and that St Nicholas is supporting families with over 100 children. Their commitment is to provide basic needs for the 2-year period that the refugees are allowed sanctuary in the US.
Pastor Carl is from Lancaster Pennsylvania who, in addition to running a church operates several successful businesses in the Lehigh Valley, an hour north of Philadelphia. One of those businesses is called Green Acres, a retail business that sells outdoor products: grills, gazebos, furniture and wonderful, commercially graded playsets.
Given Bishop Luke’s needs I decided to visit Green Acres, asked the store manager how I could get a playset for a children’s center, perhaps at a discount, maybe a discontinued model or a used sales sample. As I explained what the purpose was, I was told what I needed to do: write a letter on formal letterhead, explain the need, send it to the Carl. So that’s what I did.
A few days later, I unexpectedly got a call from Carl. He was in route to Philadelphia, wanted to see the facility for himself, make his own judgement. I alerted Bishop Luke who was happy to meet Carl at the children’s center. After arriving and meeting the Bishop, Carl settled on an area in the back of the building that could fit a playset. Bishop Luke then invited Carl to see the inside of the facility where he saw kids everywhere, playing, running, drawing, doing what little kids do. When Carl was introduced to the caretaker-mom who had escaped from Bahkmut, and then to the children, he was moved to tears. On his drive home, he knew decided to gift his finest playset to the Center. Moreover, on his own initiative he called his supplier and asked them to waive the delivery fees and to donate the 8-man hours of installation time. They agreed.
There are 16 children under the age of 5 cared for by St. Nicholas, the youngest a mere 11 months old. Sasha is a 3-year-old boy who escaped from Ukraine with his mother when his father was called into military service. He was the first child to come under Bishop Luke’s care, weeks after the war started. He is small for his age, a sweet boy with happy eyes, an expressive face, a shy boy who is quick to smile.
The day the playset was delivered on a flatbed truck, was the first full day of Spring. I was inside with Sasha and all the children, Carl was outside overseeing the installation and texted me to bring out the children when it was ready. The kids dutifully marched out, unaware of what was going on, but when they turned the corner of the building and saw the playset, there were squeals of delight and they raced to the swings, the ropes, the rock wall, the ramp and the slides. It was a scene of sheer joy.
As the bigger kids climbed the ramp, Sasha followed, but tentatively. Some kids are born fearless, some more cautious, and as Sasha stepped up the ramp, it was clear that he was afraid to keep going.
To the rescue came Nina, 15-year-old from Kyiv who helps her mother care for the kids. She got behind Sasha and coaxed him up the ramp. When he got to the top of the slide and looked down, he wanted to get away, but Nina gently grabbed him, put him on her lap, and down they came, together. With speed. When he hit the mulch, Sasha jumped up and down, again and again, overjoyed, gleeful with what he had just done for the first time, ever. Back he went, up the ramp, still unsteady, but determined. Down the slide, laughing, bounding up and down, joyous now having conquered the ramp and the slide by himself.
Those of us in the toy business weren’t given the skills to cure disease but we do have a talent for making children happy, helping them grow, bringing them joy.
The greatest reward we can ever get in our business is to make a child happy, the prize is worn on a child’s face.
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