Pair honored for revamping holiday program for foster kids

Two members of the Sonoma County Medical Alliance have been honored for their work to improve and expand a program that for 60 years has provided Christmas gifts to foster children.

Shawn Devlin and Lindsay Mazur, both Santa Rosa residents, received awards from the alliance for their contributions to the community.

"It is the most important program we do," said Charlene Staples, alliance spokeswoman. "They won the award because they transformed this program and grew it so it includes laptops for older children. They organized the program so it is streamlined and better run."

In 2003, Devlin and Mazur took over the Foster Children's Gift Program, in which alliance members buy Christmas gifts for foster children in conjunction with the Sonoma County Department of Human Services and the Valley of the Moon Children's Center.

The alliance, which is made up of 165 spouses of Sonoma County physicians, started the program in the 1950s, giving gifts to 265 youths.

The two women shortened the name to Give a Gift, came up with a logo and changed the program so alliance members, friends and neighbors could make cash donations and then a dozen people would do all the shopping.

"We branded ourselves, we evolved the program so it has its own look and feel, and our own logo, so when it came in the mail, people would recognize it and set it aside to donate later," Devlin said. "We did better marketing and better branding to make ourselves stand out."

The two raised $30,000 for gifts last year and have probably raised between $150,000 and $200,000 since they took it over, Devlin said.

"It is letters and e-mails; we have not done fundraising, we don't hold luncheons and events, it is literally grass roots, going to members and the community," Devlin said.

What children need and want also has changed. Coats and art supplies are still a staple, but the requests for bicycles has dropped off and the requests for iPods and digital cameras has increased.

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