One of Jeff Kozinski’s favorite moments in his 23 years of teaching happened when one of his students broke down crying in front of him.
The tears came when the student was working with Jeff on a project called Operation Christmas. As part of the project, the student made several trips to the home of a family in need to deliver Christmas presents.
“The family was very touched that he would do this for them,” Jeff says. “So, when my student told me this story about how they thanked him and how moved they were, he was overcome with joy and cried because he was able to help someone.”
Jeff, 46, of Edwardsburg, teaches economics and civic at Edwardsburg High School in addition to coaching varsity golf, middle school boys and girls basketball and serving as the assistant football coach and National Honor Society advisor.
Even with his busy schedule with the school district, Jeff dedicates his holiday season to working with students to put on Operation Christmas. Operation Christmas is a long-running program put on by the Edwardsburg National Honor Society that collects donations from community leaders and businesses in order to provide families in need with christmas presents.
“The objective is to help out people in our community that are in need or are less fortunate,” Jeff says.
Once the money is collected, Jeff and high school students in the honors society will take children in need from Edwardsburg Primary School out to buy presents for their entire family.
“In the morning, we take the little ones to the Meijer in Mishawaka and we pick out presents for the whole household, mom, dad, brothers, sisters, everyone,” Jeff says. “Not only do we get them presents like your toys or Detroit Lions T-shirt or something like that, we also get them necessities like toiletry items, soap, shampoo, toiletries. We even go on a scavenger hunt and let the kids pick out a board game to promote family time.”
Operation Christmas also provides each family with a food gift card to offset the costs of holiday meals, along with winter clothing.
After the shopping trip, Jeff and his students take the children out to Chuck E. Cheese.
“It’s like a mentoring activity,” Jeff says. “We try to get to know the little ones and do things they like. We just want to do something nice for people over the holidays.”
Jeff says that although the program is meant for Edwardsburg Public Schools students, that does not mean it is only for Edwardsburg residents.
“A lot of our students are school of choice, so we might be helping out a family from Cassopolis or Niles,” Jeff says. “It’s not about where the kids are from. It’s about them being part of the Edwardsburg family, the Edwardsburg Public Schools family.”
While Jeff says that he loves bringing joy to children and their family over the holidays, his favorite part of Operation Christmas is watching his students grow through the experience.
“The best part is watching the look on my students’ faces as they go through the process and see the positive impact they are having in giving back to their community,” Jeff says. “It’s a life lesson these kids are going through and it changes their world view when it comes to giving back to the community and being involved.”
Jeff said moments like the one where his student cried with joy are what make all the extra work worthwhile.
“You get to see these students change and grow and see how they can affect others,” Jeff says. “I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
How to give:
To donate to Operation Christmas, contact Jeff Kozinski at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios