• A Community of Togetherness:

    MHCC's Something Wonderful Project Connects Faculty, Staff and Students to the Community They Serve

    Nearly a quarter century after the Something Wonderful project started at Mt. Hood Community College, college staff, faculty and students are still setting records with this annual holiday giving tradition.

    Danni Mooney (left), SnowCap's administrative and program
    coordinator, and Katrinia McNeal stand among piles of gifts
    donated to the families in the Something Wonderful program.

    “This year was the first year since 2005 that the MHCC community has adopted every family that applied to Something Wonderful,” said Katrinia McNeal, a Business Technology instructor at the college. “It’s been amazing to see this project come so far and to see the generosity of our students and staff grow year over year.”

    Something Wonderful began at the college in 1994. In 2000, MHCC partnered with SnowCap Community Charities for assistance in screening applicants and collecting and delivering donations. Over the last two and a half decades, thousands of MHCC staff, faculty and students have purchased, out of their own pockets, everything from children’s toys and holiday meals to household supplies and children’s beds for 1,149 families, including 61 families in 2018 alone.

    McNeal, who began co-managing the project in 2012, takes a very hands-on approach to helping the Something Wonderful families. Each year, she reads all the applications and meets the families who have applied for “adoption,” and she and her husband, Jeff, frequently drop off gifts at the homes of families who can’t make it to the distribution site.

    “I meet a lot of families through this project,” described McNeal. “It’s my favorite part of this work – meeting the families. And all these families, they’re somehow attached to the college. Some are students, some are families with children in Head Start, sometimes they’re staff members. So, we’re helping those in need in our college community.”

    Another reason that she enjoys organizing this event: she can relate to the position that these families are in. Many simply want food for the holidays and household goods, like cleaning supplies and bedding. Others only ask for toys and warm clothing for their children.

    “My husband and I were once in a similar, difficult position,” said McNeal. “When we were just starting our family, we were faced with difficult decisions, like do we buy gifts or put food on the table this month?”

    “But we had the support of our family nearby,” she added, “and many of these families do not have that advantage.”

    From Humble Beginnings

    Something Wonderful was born out of a desire of MHCC staff to help families affected by the Fred Meyer strike in 1994. Staff helped two families that first year, donating clothes, toys, food and more to them.

    “The following year, I heard about some Project YESS students of mine who lived in a trailer park and their hot water heater broke,” described Rich Duval, who helped found the Something Wonderful project. “The students had one child and another on the way, so we rallied together and bought them a new hot water heater.”

    From that point on, the annual project was referred to as Something Wonderful.

    Duval, who retired from his position as Youth Workforce Manager of MHCC’s Project YESS in 2015, now works part-time at WorkSource Portland Metro. He said it’s inspiring to see this annual effort continue.

    “Katrina has carried on the tradition and it warms my heart,” said Duval. “This year, (the WorkSource team) adopted two families and last week we delivered the gifts to the families. I’ve always loved that part – seeing the families’ excitement when we show up with a carload of gifts.”

    A Community Partner

    The number of Something Wonderful applicants varies from year to year, ranging from as many as 140 families in 2012 to as few as 23 in 1997. The families that the MHCC community cannot adopt are adopted by SnowCap or referred to other community organizations.

    Once MHCC staff, faculty and students pull together their donations, they’re delivered to SnowCap, where families pick them up. On pick-up day, volunteers wheel out carts loaded with shiny wrapped gifts and paper bags of food to thankful recipients. Each family signs a thank you card for their donor before heading out to load up their vehicles. It’s an effort that takes an entire community to achieve.

    “Local and regional partners are essential to our work,” described Kirsten Wageman, executive director of SnowCap. “We are entirely funded by individuals, churches, community groups, businesses and occasionally private donors, so our ability to achieve our mission to feed and clothe low-income people depends on our relationships within the community.”

    For Katrinia McNeal, coordinating Something Wonderful is not only a personal endeavor – it’s a family affair. Each year, her husband and daughters help her wrap gifts and distribute the presents at SnowCap and to families. Two years ago, when her daughters accompanied her to help hand out presents, they met a recently widowed single mom of two children. The woman told them how her late husband had loved Christmas and she wasn’t sure how she was going to provide gifts to her children that year. 

    Between tears, McNeal responded simply: “Don’t worry, it’s good. We got you. We got you.”

    She speaks for the entire MHCC community – a community of staff, faculty and students who come together during the holidays to display true fellowship for their friends, family and neighbors, in the process achieving something wonderful.

    Jeff McNeal and Amy Aldus, director of MHCC's Surgical Technology program,
    navigate a cart stacked high with gifts out to anxiously waiting Something Wonderful families.