By Sal Mondelli
President & CEO

It feels good to give. In fact, there are studies that suggest charitable giving is actually good for your health. This is the season of giving, and nowhere is this more apparent than at the 360 Communities Armful of Love holiday gift program. Just ask the Rotary Club of Apple Valley how good it feels to give. Members and their families recently descended upon the 360 Communities Burnsville Family Resource Center for an Armful of Love holiday gift wrapping party. The club sponsored 10 families, purchasing gifts and donating Cub gift cards for 40 people, including 23 children.

The Rotary Club of Apple Valley was a part of a large group of clubs, families, businesses, faith communities, and volunteers that rallied around 1,000 families this year to support them with gifts and meals during the holidays. In all, they helped 2,648 children and 1,414 parents in need. in Burnsville hosted the program, providing much-needed warehouse space and parking to facilitate the exchange of gifts. The generosity of the community with this program has always been heartwarming and the sincere gratitude of the families who have been helped is equally touching.

Thank you notes to the gift sponsors have already started arriving in the office:

“Your gifts will put smiles on our kids’ faces.”

“It must be in your heart to feel the need and help my family this year.”

“I want to say THANK YOU. You made our winter one to never forget.”

“Thank you! You have brought joy and happiness to our home and made our Christmas complete.”

“Thank you for all your help this holiday season. You are a blessing.”

The Armful of Love program shows the power of giving and receiving in an immediate and tangible way. We can see the exchange of wrapped gifts and the gratitude of the recipients. But they are thankful for more than just the toys, clothes, food, and other gifts. They also understand that they live in a community that cares about their well-being. That is the most important impact of the program because it inspires them to want to give back themselves. Over the years, 360 Communities has seen recipients, so touched by their experiences with Armful of Love, turn around and volunteer with one of our programs, run a toy drive, or even sponsor an Armful of Love family, among other things.

In that way, you can imagine all of 360 Communities’ programs and services as gifts to the community that keep giving. There are immediate rewards of stability in the home, safety for survivors of abuse, and academic success. Often, though, the larger payoff comes 10 or 20 years down the line, for example, when we see children graduating high school, going on to college or a successful career, and starting their own families with safe and nurturing homes. The impacts we have with our violence prevention and intervention work, our school success programs, and our self-sufficiency work are far-reaching and positively affect the strength of our communities. That is because when we serve people in need, we are not merely giving hand-outs to stabilize their immediate crisis. We are removing roadblocks, and equipping them with the tools and support they need to forge a better life.

A good example of this is our school-based Partners For Success® program. Family support workers in 31 schools in seven school districts partner with educators and families to implement effective home-based strategies that increase parental involvement, improve academic performance and connect families to community resources. Recently, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) released the results of a social return on investment study of this innovative program. The study found that for every dollar invested in Partners For Success, a conservative estimate of $5.00 is returned in social benefits to the community. This includes personal earnings gains, higher tax revenues, public health savings, and crime reduction. The study goes on to say that preventing even just four students from dropping out of high school per year, generates social benefits that far exceed the cost of the program. Now that is a gift to the community.

Armful of Love is a holiday program that illustrates the circle of giving and receiving that is described by our name, 360 Communities.  Remember that supporting 360 Communities’ holistic mission year-round is a gift to the community with positive impacts that will last for generations to come. If you would like to make a year-end gift to 360 Communities, donate here or mail your check to 360 Communities, 501 E. Hwy 13, Suite 102, Burnsville, MN 55337. It is a gift that is not only good for your health, but it is good for the health of the community.