The Windsor Hotel in downtown Garden City may not be open, but for the past three Saturdays, it has played host to a very special guest.
Santa Claus, aka Ronald Whited, has been in house helping the Dodge City High School gifted enrichment program raise funds for a special field trip.
Area families bring in their children and pay to have their picture taken with Santa Claus. Families receive their own copy of the photo, and the enrichment class uses the funds to pay for a special field trip, said Joy Schoor, enrichment program para professional.
The project also helps the enrichment program meet the enrichment program mandate of getting out of the school yard and getting into the community. The students also learn valuable real life lessons about profit and loss, working on a budget, customer service and other skills they will need in the 21st Century. About 17 or 18 students volunteer for the project and they have to work, Whited said.
"It's a fun way to earn bucks but it also has an educational purpose," Whited said. "Kids get more out of the trip than if they were just handed the money."
Keeping students motivated in the gifted enrichment program is critical, Whited said. Any activity out of school helps the class meet the state mandate for community-based projects.
The fundraiser first was organized in 2013 when a student in the gifted enrichment class asked Whited when they were going to go on a field trip. Whited, the teacher in charge of the enrichment class, asked the students if they would be willing to do fundraisers to pay for the trip. From that conversation, the downtown photo session with Santa began and has been an annual tradition. Photos are taken the three Saturdays before Christmas.
Working in cooperation with the Finney County Preservation Alliance, a temporary photo area complete with a special Santa chair, lots of gift-wrapped presents, wall decorations and even a fake fire place serve as background is set up in an office on the ground floor of the Windsor Hotel. Student volunteers take family information and photos, and supply plenty of bell ringing to get the children to smile.
The entire project is student oriented and student led, Schoor said.
Gifted enrichment student Luke Weideman said it was a great opportunity and unique for the class. He likes getting out in the community.
"I just love helping people," Weideman said.
In the six years of the project, it has become a family tradition to return and have pictures taken year after year. About 300 families bring in their children to create this unique memory.
Whited said he enjoys doing this and likes being part of the families in the community.
"This community is wonderful. It's what keeps me here," Whited said.
The photo sessions get a big helping hand from the Finney County Preservation Alliance. Kimberly Nading, Alliance president, said when they were contacted about supplying a location for Santa photos, they were happy to make the space available that is technically beneath the Windsor Hotel.
Every year, Nading and Terri Matthews, Finney County Preservation Alliance treasurer, have become more involved in preparing the area for the photos.
Santa has evolved too. His suit has become more traditional in appearance, as is Santa's beard, which is full and white.
Nading, who was on the school board at the time the request was made to use the Windsor for the photo site, said this project worked in perfectly with efforts to bring things back to downtown that had been there in the past.
"We brought back something that hadn't been in downtown Garden City for many years," Nading said.
Matthews said the Santa photos help promote the alliance and lets people know that they are still active and working on restoring the Windsor Hotel.
"Everything helps when you are restoring something like this," Matthews said.