Yatooma foundation makes this Christmas a merry one for metro kids

Kindergartner Isaiah Cummings could have remembered this holiday season as the first without the mother he calls “a princess,” who died in February.

Instead, it will also be the season the 5-year-old sledded in his Orion Township apartment courtyard with Santa, had a truck full of furniture show up on his doorstep, and had three boxes large enough to fit the jolly fat man inside appear under his tree — full of presents.

Isaiah and his maternal grandmother, Colleen Juarez, 45, were one of three families who received an “Extreme Christmas Makeover” Thursday, provided by Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids and Art Van Furniture owner Art Van Elslander.

Prior to arriving at Isaiah’s apartment, the entourage dropped gifts at the home of Holly Hemphill in Detroit.

Hemphill, who has multiple sclerosis, is raising her two children alone after their father was killed in a 2009 shooting.

Afterward, the group headed to the Ortiz family home in Pontiac with gifts for Janelis Ortiz and her two children, whose father died in 2009 of a drug overdose.

Juarez is an unemployed autoworker who was laid off two months before her daughter, Amanda Cummings, died suddenly during a medical procedure.

All Juarez could do was shake her head as Santa — also known as metro Detroit attorney and foundation founder Norman Yatooma — oversaw the crowd. A group of volunteers helped unpack dozens of presents, including household items, boots, books and toys.

The giveaway ended with Santa’s presentation of an oversized check to Juarez — enough to pay her rent, utilities and grocery bills through the winter.

“Oh my goodness, this is unbelievable,” she said. “It’s a big help for us. Things were going to be slim for us this Christmas.”

Yatooma’s foundation screens the families of children who have lost a parent for need, helping those that it can with ongoing counseling and financial support. Currently, the foundation is helping 68 families, coordinator Melinda Keating said.

Yatooma created the foundation after losing his father in a carjacking while he was a college student.

“Nobody gets more out of this than we do,” Yatooma said. “And hopefully it will make what could be a very painful day a very special one.”


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