It had been a bad year, and he was angry. This young man, we'll call him Carlos, had taken on much more responsibility lately; responsibilities that would be hard for anybody to manage, let alone a 14-year-old boy. His mom had gotten in a car wreck and broken her neck. That wreck, the subsequent medical bills, and the fact that she couldn't work for the time being meant that Christmas was going to be a little tight this year. 

That was okay. Carlos didn't want much. He didn't need much. He didn't ask for much. But the one thing he asked for, the one thing he wanted, the one thing he needed, if we're being honest, was a punching bag. He was an angry young man and he needed something to put his aggression into. He went to sleep on Christmas Eve, not with visions of sugarplums but with an aching in his heart at the unfairness of it all.

2020 was not a good year for anybody. The world was deep in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and most everybody in the country was feeling down, depressed, and debilitated. It was a drag.

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It's been said that, when you're depressed, it might make you feel better if you do something nice for somebody else. One Casper woman took that idea to the nth degree and created, what she calls, a 'Christmas Miracle' for her Casper neighbors.

"It was 2020 and I was super down in the dumps," said Kristin Colson Schaeffer, owner of Bird's Nest Studios in Casper. "I was going through lots of life changes and I thought, 'You know what? I'm just gonna take the focus off of me and see how I can help other people. Maybe I'll feel better."

That's exactly what she did. And it worked.

Schaeffer decided to offer a 'Christmas Miracle' to the people in Casper. Whether it was a few extra gifts under the tree, the fixins' for a holiday dinner, or even just help with a light bill; she took what she had, and she gave it to others.

And now, she's doing it again.

"It was exactly what I needed at the time," she said. "I got a huge response; hundreds of messages and people asking for help, people asking how they could help, and more. It was a really cool endeavor and it was a great kickoff. Last year, my business got really busy and I couldn't do it, but this year I decided that I want to keep it going."

To do so, she enlisted the help of two friends, both of whom are also successful business women with hearts of gold.

First, she called Katrina Beckman, CEO of Kalen Marketing Solutions, a marketing firm based in Downtown Casper.

Then, she called Libby Hugus, the founder and Pastor of The Table - a spiritual organization in Casper that focuses less on hellfire and brimstone, and more on love, kindness, and compassion.

Both women were, Schaeffer said, an excellent fit for this "little idea" that she had. And both were eager to lend their talents, and their hearts, to the project.

"Thankfully, Kristin is one of my outstanding graphic designers here at Kalen," Beckman stated. "And so she talked to me briefly about this a couple years ago, and it just made my heart really, really happy. So I've been aware of this project of Kristin's for quite some time, but this year she asked if I wanted to be involved. She asked if I just wanted to help out with gift cards or something else, and I said 'Why don't we see what we get in for requests and just let me figure out where we can help out. I can fill any holes that aren't being solidified.'"

Similarly, Schaeffer approached Huggus because of her heart and their friendship.

"We were involved with the first round in 2020 because of the friendship that Kristin and I share," Hugus offered. "The conversation that we had when she thought about doing this exchange was about matching families with needs to funding. And so she approached The Table, which is the spiritual community that I lead and facilitate here in Casper and said, 'Hey, is this something that you all want to do?'"

The answer, again, was yes.

"When I think about this endeavor and this gift to the Casper community, I think about it as an energy exchange," Huggus shared. "In our spiritual community, we sort of have a tagline that says, 'We want to give and receive hospitality.' We know that hospitality is a two-way street and we know that being human requires both giving and receiving. And that's at the heart of the Christmas season, no matter what your belief structure is."

Indeed it is, and it's something that many in the community are happy to contribute to.

The way this 'Christmas Miracle' works is simple. People simply need to visit the Bird's Nest Studio website and enter some information about themselves; whether they want to give or receive, what their needs are, what they have to give, etc. Schaeffer and co. will then match up the needs to what people can provide. Both Kalen and The Table are sponsoring this project, as is Ambi Mail & Marketing.

All three businesses, along with Schaeffer and anonymous do-gooders are working around the clock to make sure that those who ask for help receive it.

"I would like to say, both of these people, and The Table itself, are donating thousands of dollars to this project this year," Schaeffer revealed. "So please ask. That's my message to people. If you need something, please ask. We are not turning anyone away. I'm not necessarily going to be able to do something for every single person, but if we can't do it then I want to direct somebody to another place that can."

Schaeffer said the goal is to help 30 families this year, but it's quite possible that there are more families and individuals to help, which is why this project is also open to anybody else that would like to help, financially or otherwise.

Casper is sure to respond in kind.

"I'm an army brat so this is the longest I've actually ever lived anywhere in my whole entire life," Beckman said. "And I would never dream of living anywhere other than Casper because I have never lived in a place that is more generous and more resourceful."

Hugus agreed. The Table has shown her the beautiful complexity of human beings and the fact that none of us are just 'one thing.'

"Humanize each other," she said. "How often do we look at somebody and slap one single label on them? Like, 'Oh, that's a single mother. Oh, that's a homeless person. Oh, that's an oil rig person. Oh, that's a rich person.' How often do we do that to each other? Just attempt, this Christmas, to think about the humanity of your neighbor. That's the world I want to belong to; a world where I'm seen as a human with a full story. I want to raise my kids that way and I want to contribute to Casper that way. So let's give each other that gift for Christmas."

This project has been able to give numerous people gifts for Christmas. One of those gifts, Schaeffer said, was a punching bag for a young man who really, really needed it.

"I had one mom reach out in 2020 and she told me 'I had a horrific car accident this year and my next is broken,'" Schaeffer remembered. "I'm in this thing and I can't work. My son is 14 and all he asked for is a punching bag this Christmas. It just so happened that I had a friend who wanted to remain anonymous, and immediately he hopped on the internet and ordered the punching bag. We went over on Christmas Eve when the boy was away and we installed it. And that boy woke up on Christmas morning to a punching bag installed in his house."

Part of being human, a big part actually, is being able to ask for help as well. Asking for help is hard, especially in a place like Wyoming where we're 'Cowboy Tough' and have been taught to always 'pick ourselves up by the boot straps.' The reality is, sometimes we can't. Sometimes we can't reach our boots, but we can reach out to the person walking alongside us. And maybe it's embarrassing, maybe it's awkward, maybe it's uncomfortable. But we have all, every single one of us at one point, needed help.

This 'Christmas Miracle' is a chance to connect those people who need help, and those who can offer help. Maybe next year, the roles will reverse. That's how life is. And that's why it's so important to have things like this project; so that people know, really know, that they can ask for help. That's what's important. That's what matters. It isn't the gifts under the tree, or the roast beast on the table; it's knowing that if we're in trouble, if we need help, there are people to turn to. Kristin Schaeffer, Katrina Beckman, Libby Hugus, and so. many. others are those people to turn to. They're part of a community, here in Casper, that loves to give; that loves to lift people up. Extraordinary things happen every single day in this town. Whether it's people donating to a GoFundMe account for a family who lost everything, a restaurant donating part of their profits to help feed hungry children, kids shoveling their neighbors' walk or something else entirely - Casper is home to astonishment, to magic, to wonder every single day.

So maybe it's a toy under the tree this Christmas. Maybe it's a bird on the table. Maybe it's keeping the lights on for another month. All of those things, all of those stories are nice. But that's not the really incredible thing. The really incredible thing is living in a town with so many people who want to give what they have, or at least what they can. It's a heart to serve. It's a smile, or a handshake to somebody who may be having a hard day. It's a kind word or a cup of coffee to the car behind you. It's people coming together, not in the spirit of a holiday but in the spirit of humanity, to do what they can to make something better for somebody else.

That's the good stuff. That's the magic.

That's the Christmas Miracle. Except it happens every single day.

2022 Downtown Casper Christmas Parade Was a Winter Wonderland

While a light, but wet snow cascaded down around the city, the lighting of the David Street Station Community Christmas Tree ushered in the annual Downtown Casper Christmas Parade.

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