My favorite Christmas story started with a door.

christmas story

I was cleaning up some blog posts and came across a favorite story from nine years ago. Many of you have asked me about my relationship with a boy named Elijah. Occasionally I’ll post pictures of the two of us and some have wondered how we’re connected.

I think this Christmas story will connect the dots for you through a story that is worth re-telling …

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to tell you a little Christmas story.

For the past three years, I’ve mentored a bright young boy named Elijah.  Elijah is growing up in small, crowded house with his three brothers and a sister (all by different fathers — none of them are around). There is also an unrelated 12-month-old baby from another unwed mother being raised in this household.

I started working with Elijah through an organization called Amachi, which pairs adult role models with at-risk kids who have at least one parent in prison. Elijah’s father was murdered when he was two.  His mother was serving several years in a federal penitentiary when I became involved with the family.

Elijah is fortunate in many ways. He is being raised in a loving home by his grandmother. His clothes are always clean and he’s never hungry. His grandmother Patsy suffers from a variety of health problems but manages to get those kids to school every day. She often works until 2 in the morning cooking and cleaning and is almost always exhausted.  When I asked her where she would want to go on a vacation some day, she said it would not matter because all she would do is sleep. In my book, she is a true hero.

Sometimes it’s frustrating to love Elijah so much because he is in such a challenging situation.  Last year, the house next door to his was raided for drugs. Another day, he was telling me about a cousin who was stabbed 20 times and died. Last year a relative took him on “a walk” and then abandoned him alone in the middle of the city, five miles from his house (without money or a cell phone).

When I hear about these things, I feel helpless.  Really the only thing I can do is support him and teach him how to make good decisions.  When I started working with him when he was just seven, he asked me if I would teach him how to be a man.  I think about that every single time I see him and I am determined to do that.

With Christmas approaching, he is excited like every other kid. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he got shy and started drawing a square in the air. We often play little guessing games like this so I tried to guess what kind of a box he was making with his fingers.

“Is it a an X-Box?” I asked?

He shook his head no.

“A Playstation?  Is it a special kind of racing game that comes in a box?”

Again, he shook his head no. Finally I had to give up. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me.

“It’s a door,” he said. “Just a door.”

Now you might want to know why a 10-year-old kid would want a door for Christmas. With his house so jam-packed with people, Elijah is sleeping in a dining area next to a living room.  Because the dining area has no door, he is awake all night from the sounds of the television and anything else that might be going on with the various adults who might be in the house. So he wants a door so he can go to sleep.

Well, obviously if he needs a door, I am going to get him a door. But here is where I would like to ask for your help.

There are so many other children in need who do not have a mentor to help them with their homework, teach them how to be a man (or woman), or install a door so an awesome child can get some sleep.

Here’s what I want you to consider: I’m here for you every day.  I’ve written more than 1,000 blog posts and have never asked for a single favor.  If you love me, if you love this blog and this community, please donate your time, talent and resources to children in need during this holiday season.

Update: In the original post from 2010 I included a “donate” button and we raised $6,000 for the charity that paired me and Elijah. And of course Elijah got his door.

Today Elijah is nearly 17. We’ve been through a lot together but we’re family and we stick together. Rebecca and I have more or less adopted the entire family and try to do what we can to help them get by.

Elijah has become an elite athlete and is being recruited at the college level for his football and track skills. We’ve been touring universities together which is why so many of our photos have something to do with sports! Here is a picture of us from a few weeks ago. We’re still going strong.


Why did I get into this? My kids were grown and I was a good parent. The world needs good parents so I looked for a way to use my skills. When I heard about this program and Elijah, there was no doubt we were meant for each other, and we were.

We’re often asked to “lend a hand.” When you’re a mentor, you ARE the hand. That makes a big difference. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change but I know I am having a concrete impact on the world.

Mentoring Elijah and his brothers and sisters has been a life-changing experience for me. I hope in this holiday season you’ll consider mentoring as a life goal, too.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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