November 24, 2014
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Taking Christmas a step further, Warwick business treats shelter residents to Disney on Ice
BIG SMILE: John Harley, 5, smiles on the bus before heading off to see Disney on Ice. His father, George, works for House of Hope.

Christmas continued well past Dec. 25 for members of House of Hope, CDC. Tim Sawyer, founder and owner of Astonish, a digital marketing system for insurance companies, decided to play Santa this year. With the help of Trailways bus lines, Disney on Ice and the House of Hope, Tim put together a daytrip for nearly 60 people from local shelters.

Astonish is located just down the road from House of Hope, and Sawyer said he is familiar with the work they do. This year, he wanted to help the community, and thought that doing something for the residents of the House of Hope and Rhode Island Family Shelter would be the perfect way to do it.

“They do so much great work,” he said of both institutions.

So a few weeks before Christmas, Sawyer placed a call to House of Hope. Together, they brainstormed a way to make Sawyer’s vision for an extended Christmas a reality.

Thanks to Sawyer, those from the Rhode Island Family Shelter and House of Hope got a special treat on Saturday, Dec. 29, when a Trailways bus pulled up in front of the women’s shelter in Governor Francis Farms. After picking up a few families there, the 57-passenger bus headed to the Rhode Island Family Shelter in Conimicut, where it filled to capacity. The driver was about to take the families to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, where they’d catch an afternoon performance of Disney on Ice.

But not before a special visit from Santa Claus, who gave each parent $25 per child to spend on toys and souvenirs at the show.

The whole thing went off without a hitch, thanks to the careful planning of Sawyer and his father, Tom.

“He’s an amazing guy,” said Tim of his dad. “My best friend in the world.”

Tim said his father taught him to be kind and giving.

“He came from nothing,” said Tim. “He worked hard his whole life.”

Tom eventually became the publisher of a newspaper, and spent his career focusing on giving back to the community. Tim said his father would always donate whatever he could “cobble together.”

When Tim was younger, Tom was heavily involved with the Salvation Army, and took a group of shelter residents out for a trip around the holidays.

“That stuck with me for a long time,” said Tim. “People appreciated it. It was something I always wanted to do.”

On Dec. 29, Tom, 70, joined his son Tim, 45, as they made the rounds from the House of Hope to the Rhode Island Family Shelter. The two smiled and laughed as they helped people board the bus that was about to whisk them away for the afternoon.

Between the cost of the tickets to Disney on Ice, the $25 each family was given and additional expenses for the bus driver, Tim said the trip cost him about $3,600.

Tom McCaughey, owner of Trailways, donated the bus for the trip, a $700 cost. Area resident Dan Cunningham played Santa Claus at no charge.

“It’s the little things that make a big difference,” said Tim.

Tim said he was prompted to collaborate with the House of Hope and Family Shelter after seeing all the great work they did. He also knows the face of homeless people has changed.

He said he has heard of formerly working, middle-class individuals now struggling to find jobs.

“It’s not that people aren’t trying [to find work], they’re trying,” he said.

And Tim and his company aren’t strangers to philanthropy; Astonish has donated $50,000 to the Make A Wish Foundation. Although he has dug deep into his pockets to put smiles on children’s faces, Tim said it’s more about the action than the amount. His father taught him to give whatever he could spare.

“Whatever it is we can do, we have an obligation to do that,” he said.

On Saturday, the bright smiles of the children and their parents (especially upon seeing Santa) were proof that doing a little goes a long way.

Tiffany Handy, mother to Serena, age 4, and Natasha, 2, said the day out was a good family trip. Elsie Curtis, 7, said the Trailways bus reminded her of something pop star Justin Bieber would ride in.

“It’s cool,” she said, as her dad, Mark, looked on. He has been living in a House of Hope home for the past two years, and said he was grateful to be able to take the day trip with his daughter. Elsie said she was looking forward to the Disney on Ice show, and was most excited to see Sleeping Beauty.

Azalea Tavares, age 6, was hopeful Tinkerbell would make an appearance, while John Harley, 5, anxiously awaited seeing Mickey Mouse. Both Azalea and John are children of House of Hope workers who took the trip with shelter residents.

“The trip was fantastic,” said Patti Macreading, executive director of the Rhode Island Family Shelter last week. “[The families] are still talking about it.”

Macreading is grateful to Tim for allowing the families at the shelter to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

“We need a little bit of good news in Rhode Island,” said Tim.


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