WATERTOWN — A church raised over $6,500 in donations from around the community for a woman who gives back and expects nothing in return, and she plans to do the same with the money.
Sybil Stanton, the business manager and administrative assistant at Faith Fellowship in Watertown, was sitting in her office recently when she and the church’s pastor, James Smith, came up with an idea. They wanted to ask the community for two things: donations and to nominate someone who loves to help others, is not concerned about the spotlight and who always puts themselves last.
As a result, the Christmas in Watertown Giving Back Campaign was formed. The church started asking for donations on Black Friday, and it would go on to raise $6,501 in less than a month.
A panel of four was selected to review submitted nominations. On the panel was a representative from the Resolution Center, Watertown Urban Mission, CAPC and Faith Fellowship. They called references and met three times before making a final decision on who deserves the gift. It came down to Wanda Holtz.
Ms. Holtz has been a foster parent for years. She’s adopted two children as a result. They’re adults and out of the house now, and she’s still fostering children. She and her husband became foster parents because they felt it was something of a duty — he wasn’t in public service like she was and is, and, frankly, they had open rooms in their farmhouse, she said.
“There’s more kids that come in than there are parents,” Ms. Holtz said. “There’s a need.”
Ms. Holtz has spent her career in the substance community, which she said has affected her personally since the day she was born. She has worked with ACR Health, Pivot Prevention & Health Services and DSF. In February 2017, she became director of the Anchor Recovery Center of Northern New York in Watertown.
“The work I do here at Anchor, I mean, I get paid for,” Ms. Holtz said. “I don’t go above and beyond because I get paid more or less, I just do because at the end of the day, these people are human.”
During the application process of who should receive this honor, several testimonial letters were submitted from those Ms. Holtz helped recover and those she works alongside.
“My daughter should be dead and has been saved by the dedication of Anchor Recovery in Watertown NY and Wanda Holtz,” one letter reads.
Another person involved with the center said Ms. Holtz has been an emotional support for many people.
“She helps differentiate love vs. tough love,” the second letter said, “which offsets personal fears and helps stability in families who are hoping to get their lives back together.”
One of Ms. Holtz’s coworkers of over 20 years said in a letter she has never met another person more dedicated to helping her clients toward living a healthier, happier and more independent lives.
“In her work,” the coworker said, “she has personally contributed to saving countless lives of persons suffering from the disease of addiction.”
The decision for Ms. Holtz to be the recipient of the $6,500 gift was made on Dec. 20. She was unaware the church would present her with the check at a service on Christmas Eve.
“I was completely shocked,” she said. “I’m not that person to be in the limelight.” With no affiliation to Faith Fellowship, Ms. Holtz was curious why her husband insisted they go to the Christmas Eve service.
When they got there, he moved them to the front row. She recognized many people there, but it still hadn’t dawn on her. And then a video began to play of people talking about how Ms. Holtz has helped her, or how dedicated she is to the community.
“I am flooded with emotion at this point,” she said. “My younger daughter stood up there and said, very loudly, ‘mom are they talking about you?’ She’s seven.”
They were in front of the congregation when Ms. Stanton handed Ms. Holtz a letter and said “take your family on vacation.” Contained in the letter was a check for $6,501.
“I heard her say that, but it didn’t hit me. I never opened it,” Ms. Holtz said. “When I was with my family later, I opened it and said ‘there must be a mistake.’”
Ms. Holtz said she was deeply humbled by the community and the panel for choosing her. She remembers people telling her she deserves this, followed by tears flowing from her face. Fortunately, Ms. Holtz and her family have already planned a vacation, making the plan to donate the money back into the community.
“A lot of these community members who decided I should get this, I think it should go back into the community, which is where it came from,” she said. “And maybe with me giving it back to the community, those community members will see where the needs are still.”
The point of the entire campaign wasn’t just to show Ms. Holtz that the community appreciates her work, but also to encourage everyone who gives back that it’s worth while.
“I think we get so caught up in the hamster wheel of life that we just think about getting through each day and just getting in our own lane,” Ms. Stanton said.
“Sometimes, that’s good. But sometimes, it’s just stagnant. And we need to reach out a little bit further ahead or behind and just rally everybody together.”
And Faith Fellowship plans to do the same campaign next year.
“Those are the people that are affecting our community just as much as big organizations are, but they don’t see any of that recognition,” Ms. Stanton said. “They don’t want it, but we just wanted to say ‘Hey, we see you. We love you, and we’re grateful for what you’re doing for this community.’”