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2017 ESL Jefferson Award Winner: Mary Kate Brushafer

May 09, 2017 06:45 PM

Each year, we ask our viewers to nominate people from our community for their volunteerism. The ESL Jefferson Awards are part of the national Jefferson Award Foundation which strives to build a culture of service in communities across the country. Founded in 1972 by well-known public servants including former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the Jefferson Awards are the country’s longest standing and most prestigious honor of its kind.

Mary Kate Brushafer is only 17 years old but she’s already created a non-profit organization and has served as the executive director for several years! It’s called the Santa Hat Society and she’s basically the Head Elf and there are a lot of elves that help her, year-round, to make Christmas special for others.

They target families affected by a tragedy or illness. The idea came to Mary Kate when she was just eleven and her Grandma paid her money to do chores. Since she didn’t want to take money from her grandmother, she used the money to buy presents for classmates who had lost their dad on Christmas night the previous year.

"I thought it would be nice to put a smile on their face and make it a little less hard,” says Brushafer.

By the next Christmas, there were other families and children suffering and the whole thing just started snowballing.

"It did. It kept going. These stories keep popping up all over the place with families that go through hard troubles,” continued Mary Kate. "People kept asking me if I was going to do it again next year, so if they were willing to donate, I was willing to pay it forward.”

More and more elves started volunteering at her school, Lima Christian. So they decided to get T-shirts and start a Facebook page. Then came fundraisers and her siblings even offered to do chores to make more money. This helped buy dozens of presents. The display in their living room gets bigger and bigger by the month!

"It just feels really nice. I have a lot of family. We're very blessed so it's nice to be able to have someone else feel that way Christmas morning.”

Even in the month of March, there are presents to wrap in the Brushafer house. If you come over to help, Mrs. Brushafer will make sure you put on a Santa hat. Teachers have also signed up to be an elf. Mrs. Werner says being part of the Santa Hat Society was a highlight of her holiday season.

"It was humbling because here I am an adult, part of something a student started, and she was bringing me alongside. It seems it should be the opposite but she's that kind of a leader. She's fantastic. She's one in a million."

Mary Kate is recruiting younger students to continue the Santa Hat Society after she goes to college. That probably won’t be difficult since so many folks in Livingston County look forward to the events, the fundraisers and delivering the presents each Christmas. In the few weeks since we announced Mary Kate Brushafer as a 2017 ESL Jefferson Award winner, more than $1,400 dollars has been donated. That will buy a lot of toys for Christmas!

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