It’s one of Norman Yatooma’s favorite days of the year. He ditches his normal attorney garb for a different kind of suit — the red and white kind.
It’s the day Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids surprises some of its beneficiary families with what they’ve dubbed an “Extreme Christmas Makeover.” On Saturday, Dec. 19, Tanya Kramer, of Pinkney, and her six children were on the receiving end of that surprise presentation of gifts and other holiday goodies.
The Christmas makeover is an event Yatooma said he and his wife have been hosting for about 12 years, since the prominent attorney first founded the organization to benefit children who have lost a parent. It’s a cause close to Yatooma’s heart, since he lost his own father in an attempted car-jacking more than 20 years ago.
“We’ve been doing it since it was just a handful of Yatoomas around the kitchen table. Then it was my sweet little wife going shopping on her own and tabulating totals to make sure every family was doted on evenly. There were gifts floor to ceiling,” he said. “It’s an awesome day; one of my favorite days of the year. Not just for the foundation, but in general.”
Kramer and her kiddos showed up to Mandaloun Bistro last weekend, expecting to give a speech on her experience with the foundation to a room full of board members.
“I gave my speech, and then afterwards Jennifer (Moore) thanked everyone for being there, and that’s when she pulled the doors open and Norm surprised up,” said Kramer.
Hidden out of sight while Kramer spoke was a load of gifts that would make even St. Nick blush. Her kids got toys, ice skates and sleds, makeup, slippers, shoes and plenty more. Mom got a baby monitor, among other items, so she could watch her youngest sleep soundly. Santa also passed along a check to help her cover utilities and other expenses throughout the winter.
She also got a display of butterflies on four canvases — a gift that she chokes up just talking about.
“When my husband passed, it was one of those things we would see all the time,” she said through tears. “At times when you wouldn’t see butterflies, we would see one.”
It was October of 2014 when Kramer’s husband, Kevin, was struck head on by a distracted driver. He died of his injuries a month later, just as the couple was in the process of adopting one of their foster children — four in all. She was left to care for the four girls, plus an adopted child and a biological daughter, on her own. One of the youngest in the family has cerebral palsy and other special health needs.
The past year has been one of changes, Kramer said, moving forward without her husband and looking for help and hope wherever she can.
“I’m just keeping my head up and a smile on my face most of the days,” she said. “You just learn to live a new, normal life. It’s a different life.”
Kramer said the foundation has been there for her family since her husband’s death, providing play opportunities for the kids and a support system for her in her moments of need.
“It was amazing. They do so many different activities for the kids. My oldest went to California during the summer on a leadership conference with the organization, and she still talks to people she met there and she keeps contact with those people. It was definitely a life-changing thing that she’ll always remember and take with her,” Kramer said. “And they’re there when I need someone to talk to — the staff as well as other parents going through the same thing. We talk about stuff like, ‘How did you handle this?’ You get suggestions and ideas and someone to run things by.”
The family has undoubtedly been through a lot this year. But for one day it was all smiles and celebration as the family unwrapped their gifts from Santa and his elves. That even included Captain America swag, in remembrance of Dad, whom they called their own Captain America.
“They had a blast. They’re still talking about it,” said Kramer. “It was neat to get home and see what everybody got. Usually I watch everyone open their gifts on Christmas, but they made sure I had my own things to open, and they took the kids and (entertained) them so I could have time for me.”
For more about Yatooma’s Foundation for the Kids, visit www.forthekidsfoundation.org.