Kid at heart revels in community's generous holiday giving

Hylun Harrison at Urbana High School promEveryone at Urbana High School knows Hylun Harrison. A huge fan of Toy Story and roller skating his Saturday afternoons away, the teen with Down syndrome is always ready with a fist bump or a high five.

“Hylun is happy. He’s outgoing. He doesn’t want to be treated any different,” his mother Karen Mikle said. “I do have to remind him—especially when he’s playing with younger kids—that he’s bigger than them, that he’s stronger than them. More than anything, I’m beyond proud of the person he’s become.”

And she’s beyond pleased that The Salvation Army of Champaign County sees Hylun as a worthy recipient of the donated gifts he’s thrilled to receive at Christmas time.

“At the Salvation Army, we serve families and kids where they are,” said Robin Mathis, whose added mission this time of year is getting toys and gifts into the hands of children who might otherwise receive nothing for Christmas. “We’re happy to accommodate children with special needs so they can feel the joy of the season.”

The Carle Salvation Army Toy Drive kicks off Monday—with a few changes. The beloved community-focused effort still welcomes new, unwrapped gifts primarily for children 12 and younger at a host of Carle locations in Champaign-Urbana and Mahomet. The event still features an all-day drive-thru where generous community members drop off toys and gift cards—this time at Carle Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the corner of First and Windsor in Champaign.

Also new this year, the December 13 all-day drive-thru welcomes coats, hats and mittens that will go to Champaign County children in need. While toys must be new, winter gear donations can be new or gently used.

Mikle looks forward to choosing what her son receives.

“I’m not a kid, but I love the Salvation Army Toy Shop. It’s a kiddie wonderland,” she said.

“That’s my Christmas right there.”

Hylun and the skateboard he received from last year's toy driveHylun’s most-used gifts from toy drives past include a now well-worn basketball and the skateboard he’s still working to master.

“The Salvation Army is a blessing to me, my household and my family,” the Salvation Army Pathway of Hope participant said. “It has awesome services for parents when they’re low on funds.

“And they help people see they’re not stuck, that something better is coming along.”

Mathis, The Salvation Army’s local director of Social Services Ministries, issues this reminder often.

“The reality is a lot of us are one crisis away from not being able to do it on our own. We have to connect with our own feelings about what it would be like to not have what we have today when we choose how generously we can give,” she said. 

“Sometimes you just need a glimpse of hope for things to begin to turn around.”

All-day toy drive drive-through moves to Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in 2017For 33 years, Carle has partnered with WDWS/WHMS/WKIO radio station to bring holiday cheer to local children—and glimpses of hope to their parents, grandparents and guardians—through the Salvation Army's Toy Shop. Last year’s Connected Through Giving campaign collected nearly 2,600 toys and more than $4,600 in monetary donations.

And the goal is to top that this year.

To learn more so you can give, please visit Carle.org/toydrive today.