S.H.E. – In the giving spirit, year-around

By Stacie Smith • Last Updated 2:11 pm on Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Debra Young with some of the gifts that have been donated to the Huntington Bank Giving Tree that will be distributed to area schools Dec. 17.


The Christmas season is a time for gift giving and generosity. Greenville resident, Debra Young donates her time and resources at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year as an ongoing show of thanks for the kindness she was shown.

In the spirit of paying it forward, reaping what is sewn or karma, Young sees her involvement with the Giving Tree and Relay For Life simply as repaying the kindness she and her family received more than 20 years ago.

While living in Maryland, Young’s husband was diagnosed and treated for cancer. Due to mounting medical expenses, the couple was unable to afford Christmas gifts for their children. Through the generosity of others, the Young family was able to celebrate Christmas and that has stayed with Young through the years.

In 1996, Young moved back to Michigan and the following year started working for Huntington Bank. She immediately got involved with both the Giving Tree and Relay For Life, which was established by Wendy Smith and another former bank employee. Both endeavors are near and dear to Young since her family’s life was impacted by cancer.

“I know what it is like to struggle, my mom was a single mom,” Young said. “It isn’t just about giving the gifts, but the sense of relief for the parents. If I can help alleviate some of that stress, I will. Aren’t we supposed to be here to help each other out?”

Overseeing the Giving Tree is no small task and certainly requires a group effort. Like many who generously give of their time and talents, Young is modest about the role she plays and is quick to acknowledge all of the support given by her co-workers. With so many families in Montcalm County affected by minimal incomes, the process of selecting deserving kids begins with letters sent to all Greenville elementary schools and Grattan Academy schools. In addition to the Giving Tree, the bank also holds fundraising bake sales and included a visit with Santa this year.

“It’s a wonderful team effort that makes this such a success every year – the schools, all our helper elves here at the bank, our customers and our community,” Young said of the Giving Tree.

As the gifts are brought into the bank, Young and her co-workers check off names on the list to be certain that no child is overlooked. If gifts are not brought in or there are names remaining on the tree, Young and Smith head out on a shopping spree the weekend before gifts are distributed. Gifts are delivered to the schools either before the day begins or when students are in class so parents can pick them up without their kids knowing. That way, the children can enjoy a surprise on Christmas morning.

When the hustle and bustle of the busy holiday season slows, Young doesn’t sit still for long as she prepares to be part of a team for Relay For Life. The 24-hour event is held throughout the country to raise funds for cancer research and to celebrate those who have battled cancer and survived, as well as remember those who succumbed to the disease. Again the employees of Huntington Bank rally together and host bake sales, sell candy bars and walk to help raise funds for The American Cancer Society.

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