‘Angels’ at Work in Northeast Kansas

For nine years now at Christmastime, Mark Nicholson tracks his “angels” on a spreadsheet. They don’t have wings, and they look pretty human. But they act on some of the best impulses of being human–giving generously out of care for people they don’t even know. 

“Angel” is the column title for the list he and his wife, Becky, keep of people who join the Nicholsons each year in providing gifts to people supported by Mosaic in Northeast Kansas. They were first featured in Mosaic’s blog in 2016, which was the third year they had done it. 

In 2014, the couple discovered there were about 40 people served by Mosaic in Northeast Kansas that either had no family to share Christmas with, or whose families could not provide anything for Christmas because of financial or other reasons.

That meant no Christmas gifts for these people; Mark and Becky got busy.

“We called on our friends … and each one of them adopted one person or maybe two and provided Christmas gifts for them,” Mark said.  “The staff at Mosaic helped the people make out their Christmas list with hints on what to buy.”

The friends also got invited to a party at the Nicholson’s home where they delivered the gifts.  Now in its third year, it has grown and become a tradition.

“We all look forward to spending four or five hours together during the holiday season, and it’s for the greater good for Mosaic,” Mark said.

The parties and the gift-giving still happen. The number of people receiving gifts has varied every year, but Mark conservatively estimates this group of “angels” has provided more than 1,000 gifts to people. 

“There have been years when the entire living room was full,” Becky said. “I was shocked at how generous people were.” Working with Mosaic staff, they identify people’s “wants,” she said, not just the needs. 

“We’ve had someone receive a bicycle and others really nice electronic things,” Becky said. “It isn’t just ‘here are some socks.’” 

The couple and their family enjoy celebrating Christmas (Becky called Mark “Mr. Christmas”). When they first learned of the need, they realized giving the gifts would be a great way to combine their love of being with friends and family at Christmastime with doing good for others. They said some years more than 60 people are involved as “angels.”

“People with intellectual disabilities are a population that gets overlooked sometimes,” Becky said. “It always makes me happy because they are so excited that someone is paying attention and noticing them.”

From their earliest married days in the 1980s, the couple has worked to help people with disabilities. Becky is a professor at the University of Kansas and trains occupational therapists. She also volunteers for the Special Olympics and got Mark involved as a volunteer treasurer, which he now has done for 37 years.

They’ve volunteered in other ways at Mosaic in Northeast Kansas and have assisted with Mosaic’s Partners in Possibilities sustainable fundraising program. Mark has served nationally on The Mosaic Foundation Board of Directors and is currently a member of the Mosaic Board of Directors.

The couple’s daughter and son-in-law became involved over the years. They also enlisted some of their friends to participate as well. 

The couple see that as a good sign, because much like the eternal nature of angels themselves, “This event can carry on for years to come,” Mark said.

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