Twenty years ago Jackie Zigtema began taking her special education students on a Christmas shopping trip to help them learn valuable real-world skills. It was not long after that her brother Steve Mostyn decided to help find ways to help expand the program.
Today the Glenda Jean Mostyn and Joe E. Moreno Educational Foundation sponsor an annual Christmas Lights shopping trip and luncheon in 19 school districts, with more than 1,250 students.
“We did it on a small scale, (Steve) came and then said I came and he’d call me the next year and say let’s add a school,” Zigtema said. “It’s an unbelievable gift to these kids.”
Caring for special needs students is a family affair; the foundation is named in honor of their mother Glenda Jean, who spent her career working with students at the old St. Louis school.
Foundation Executive Director Monte Osburn said the event with Whitehouse Independent School District was especially meaningful this year. The family hails from Whitehouse and this marked the first shopping trip since Steve passed away in November.
After a morning of shopping and exercising skills such as math, budgeting and decision making, the 86 students and their families headed over to the Family Life Center at West Erwin Church of Christ for a catered lunch and visits with Santa Claus.
“This day, in particular, is extremely important to us,” Osburn said. “(Steve) felt like these kids need an opportunity to use those skills and so he started off by going and hanging out with his sister or buying them dinner.”
Osburn said the motivation behind the shopping trip was simply trying to make a difference one child at a time.
Whitehouse ISD Superintendent Christopher Moran said the event is the highlight of the year for both the teachers and students of the special education department.
“This is totally their day. They have to stay in their $50 limit so it’s a lot of choices,” Zigtema said. “We’ve seen kids buy for themselves, we’ve seen kids buy for their parents, and one year we had a kid come through with a Christmas tree.”
The student told Zigtema he was buying it for his family, so she helped make sure he had enough for decorations as well.
The students also received letters from Santa Claus during the event. Afterward, 4-year-old Molly Hague ran around the building hugging all of her friends and teachers.
“You add this all together, and that’s Steve’s legacy,” Osburn said.