Southfield family gets Christmas surprise

Dominica Harris, 40, and her four kids got an early Christmas surprise Dec. 11 when Santa Claus rang the bell of their Southfield home and rendered them speechless.

As carolers belted out holiday tunes and workmen loaded present after present into the Harris home, Dominica Harris was overwhelmed.

“I wasn’t expecting all of this,” she said through tears, despite the smile on her face. “Words can’t express how overwhelming this is right now. It’s unbelievable — the generosity of everyone.”

Clothes, toys, stuffed animals, food, bedroom furniture for every member of the family from Art Van, and a check covering their mortgage, utilities and groceries for the entire winter — the Yatooma Foundation for the Kids provided it all.

Yatooma is a nonprofit organization in Birmingham that provides emotional, financial, educational, employment and social stability to families of children who have lost a parent. Attorney Norman Yatooma launched the foundation after his father’s murder in 1993 to help other children and families who are struggling with the death of a parent.

“We help them with financial assistance, grief counseling — whatever support they need,” said Raquel Gumma, project manager for Yatooma, who added that she’s gotten to know the Harris family over the last few years.

Dominica’s husband, Andrew McClellan, died in 2008 at the age of 43 after complications from abdominal surgery. The two were together for 12 years, raising four children, now ages 21, 17, 11 and 8.

“With no life insurance in place, and Dominica receiving layoff notification within one month after Andrew’s passing, life instantly became difficult as Dominica tried to hold the family together,” states to information provided by Yatooma.

“We’ve been working with them for a few years,” Gumma said. “She has amazing kids. They’re very inspirational, very positive. They’re just the greatest kids. They do well in school and their teachers say they’re an inspiration to the other students. They’re an amazing family. She’s done a great job, and we just wanted to recognize her.”

Norman Yatooma, who dressed as Santa for the surprise delivery — one of three taking place for Oakland County families Dec. 11, said the Harris family is deserving of these gifts.

“They’ve had more (loss) than most families ever should,” he said. “In the wake of all that tragedy to be able to bring a smile to their face, even if it’s just for the night, and help them to enjoy Christmas, which would otherwise be a difficult holiday to celebrate without dad, it’s reason enough.”

Watching her children gleefully unwrap their presents was a moment of joy for Dominica Harris.

“That’s the ultimate right there — as long as they’re happy, I’m happy,” she said. “It’s unbelievable, the generosity of everyone — they’re a great foundation. It’s a wonderful Christmas blessing. All of it — it’s done. They thought of everything.”

She said she’s a strong woman who will keep forging ahead despite their troubles.

“I have my home and I have my son’s a senior in college,” she said. “I’m going day by day. Basically, just maintaining. I keep going, no matter what happens, I get back up and keep going.”

For more information about the Yatooma Foundation, visit www.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jennie Miller at or at (586)279-1108.

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