Santa hats adorned many a head, as festive music played in the background and smells of popcorn filled the air.

Holiday cheer was in full force at Central Lakes College Wednesday, Dec. 13.

Designed specifically for CLC students with children, a Christmas party featuring games, crafts, face painting, caricatures, snacks and, of course, Santa entertained kids of all ages, while bringing smiles to their parents' faces as well.

The event began about 10 years ago when Kimberly Pilgrim, director of the Meta 5 program, saw a need to do something fun for those in the program.

"I work primarily with women who are in transition, so we would always do some type of holiday experience with our participants," Pilgrim said. "Just a Christmas party to make something really fun ... and celebrate the families."

---   ---   ---   ---   ---

For more photos go to

---   ---   ---   ---   ---

Many of the program participants, Director of Student Life Erich Heppner said, were single parents who didn't have anywhere to go for the holidays or the means to purchase gifts for their children.

"So we saw the need, and we decided that we were going to try to at least do something," Heppner said.

Though the party started as a way to reach out to those in Meta 5-a displaced homemaker pre-employment program to help those in need transition into the job market and address other needs-10 years later the festivities now include any CLC students who have children.

"I think it's really fun," student Natasha Williams said after she watched her 4-year-old son Kylin receive a gift from Santa. "It's a really cool opportunity for kids who believe in Santa because (Kylin) was like, 'I'm so excited.'"

About a month before the party, Angel Christmas Trees were put up on both the Brainerd and Staples CLC campuses, and students with children were encouraged to write their kids' name, gender and age on an envelope and put it on one of the trees along with a wishlist of gift ideas. Volunteers picked envelopes off the trees and bought presents valued at about $20 or less.

"And then we make sure we've got a gift for each kid," Heppner said. "Then we have them all come to this party."

About 50 kids came to the party and, like Williams' son, waited in line and excitedly received their gifts from Santa.

But the activities didn't stop there.

As she watched her daughter Aurora show off Hula-Hooping skills, Melissa Watson said she was enjoying her first year at the party and appreciated the wide variety of activities.

"It's not just for one age group," Watson said. "It's multiple age groups, which is nice."

Williams agreed, saying her 13-year-old son wasn't initially excited for the party but ended up having a good time with the other kids.

"It's pretty awesome," Williams said. "The kids can come and play and be themselves."