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Smart Start Rowan’s breakfast with Santa is a holiday tradition for local families

By Susan Shinn Turner

Breakfast with Santa has become a family tradition for Marianna and Kiel Jarrett and their sons, Waylen and Wyatt.
Photo by Susan Shinn Turner


Smart Start Rowan began hosting Breakfast with Santa three years ago, and it hasn’t taken long for the event to become an annual holiday tradition for local families.


The breakfast continues to be held in the Pit at St. John’s Lutheran Church. This year’s breakfast was on Dec. 7.

Kathy Ingold, right, with some of her family members, Christin Funderburk, Easton Kneip, Chase Kneip, Ali Funderburk, Ricky Funderburk, and Anson Funderburk. Photo by Susan Shinn Turner

Serenity May, 3, was jumping up and down with the energy only a 3-year-old has. She was holding a certificate — laminated! — proclaiming her a member of the Nice List.


It was the first time that Dennis and Kathy Ingold and some of her children and grandchildren attended.


“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s so special. The food was delicious, Santa was great, and the fun they are making for the kids is phenomenal.”


Part of that fun included making all sorts of crafts — wreaths, gingerbread men, Christmas trees, snowmen.


Peyton Hand and her little brother, Grayson Franklin, enjoyed making crafts together, although Grayson seemed a bit more interested in a tiny balloon someone had blown up for him.


“They had a great time,” said their mom, Beth Franklin. “This is a nice event. We live outside Charlotte, but our family is here.


Some 15 volunteers from Smart Start Rowan and their teenage children were on hand throughout the day to help wherever they were needed.

Peyton Hand watches her brother, Grayson Franklin, play with a balloon during craft time. Photo by Susan Shinn Turner

Two of those volunteers were friends Emma Ehmann, 17, and Emily Domenech, 19.


“She texted me and I was like, sure,” Ehmann said. “I like Christmas, and I like to help out.”


And you’re never too old to sit on Santa’s lap, as the two friends did, along with the Smart Start Rowan staff members who posed together for a group shot with Father Christmas. Casey Propst of Solid Image Photography donated her services for the morning.


Families enjoyed breakfast, which included a traditional breakfast casserole, French toast, fresh fruit, pastries, and “Santa sauce,” (aka strawberry applesauce), according to Celia Jarrett, a member of the community relations committee.


Thus far, the event has been a sellout every year, Jarrett said. This year, about 75 children, parents, and grandparents attended.


“The first year it snowed,” Jarrett noted, “so we are happy for good weather so Santa could get here. We have families who have made this an annual tradition. Lots of staff kids come and help. It’s an outreach to get people to learn about Smart Start Rowan.”


Smart Start Rowan serves children throughout Rowan County ages birth to 5. The event was a fundraiser to benefit its Early Learning Playroom, located at the Smart Start Rowan offices, 1329 Jake Alexander Blvd. S.


The Early Learning Playroom is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to Shurna Rabsatt, Smart Start Rowan’s family support program lead.


“Families can come to the playroom any time during those hours and sign in at the front desk. Over the summer, we had two moms who met there with their kids because it was just too hot to play outside. It’s been a nice gathering spot.”


“We see the families grow up there,” said Bianca Munoz Norman, who greets families at the front desk.


 At the end of the morning, Jason Masingo and his daughter, Ava, walked out the front door, but not before Ava said thank you to Smart Start Rowan staff members for hosting.


Her father carried a whole stack of crafts.


“She made one of everything,” he said.


Amy Brown, Smart Start Rowan’s executive director, was also thankful.


“We’re so appreciative of our dedicated staff and volunteers, including Santa himself, who help to make Breakfast with Santa so successful each and every year,” she said.


Smart Start Rowan is a United Way member agency.


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