December 20, 2019

How volunteers in Indiana are keeping the magic of Santa alive for people around the world

Here are three stories about renewal to inspire you as you head into the weekend.

Young children often pour their heart out to Santa. A group of volunteers in Indiana is making sure they're heard. Photo by __ drz __ on Unsplash

Each week, The Renewal Project shares three stories from around the country that highlight the innovative solutions people are creating in their communities. This week we’re focusing on stories of children who are making their voices heard and how that has the power to strengthen communities. What are the innovative ideas in your hometown? Tell us at and your project could be featured in an upcoming story on The Renewal Project.

Checkin’ it twice: Do you believe in Santa Claus? One small town in Indiana is doing their best to keep the magic alive for people all around the world. The town shares their name with the big man in red who hails from the North Pole. That means every year, tens of thousands of letters from children (and those who are children at heart) make their way to Santa Claus, Indiana.

While the town only has a population of 2,500, they still manage to answer many of these letters, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. As of Dec. 17 Santa Clause’s elves, headquartered at the Santa Claus Museum & Village, have responded to 19,000 letters and have plans to answer more.

“They still believe in Santa Claus, and they pour their hearts out to Santa Claus,” said Pat Koch, the 88-year-old chief elf who has been answering letters since she was 12. “I think they tell Santa Claus some things they don’t tell anybody else.”

The elves are working hard to respond to all letters received by Dec. 20, 2019, The Indianapolis Star reports. As they sort through and answer massive piles of mail, volunteers share the remarkable things that people write.

“You go from laughing to crying,” said Ann Wahl, a retired schoolteacher who has been an elf for four years. “And sometimes you need to get up and walk around and take a break and regroup and start fresh. But it’s all worth it.”

Comfort clothes: It’s hard for many people to find comfortable clothes that fit and feel good. But that challenge is amplified for those with Down Syndrome. That’s why the University of Delaware’s Innovation, Health, and Design Lab is conducting a research study to generate the first clothing size guide for people with Down Syndrome.

The 1,000 children with Down Syndrome participating in the study will each receive a free, custom-made pair of jeans, designed for their size and motor-function. Better fitting and feeling clothes can help boost the confidence of the entire community, helping them to function more independently.

“It’s great that there are designers interested in serving the population, but you have to talk to the community and understand what the actual issue is … in order to design something that actually suits them,” Martha Hall, founder of the Innovation Lab, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Making maps: Good news for the children of Boulder, Colorado: It’s time to explore! The University of Colorado Boulder’s Growing Up Boulder initiative has created the nation’s first printed kid-friendly map to help parents and children find their way around the city. Mara Mintzer, program director of Growing Up Boulder, had the idea for the map after she moved to the city and felt lost about where to take her child. The organization worked with 700 kids from a variety of different backgrounds, incomes, and abilities to structure the map around their interests. Highlights of the map include nature trails, dog parks, libraries, and museums. So far, the organization has distributed 10,0000 copies around Boulder, including both English and Spanish versions.

“I realized the map could not only serve as a practical guide, but could support social justice,” Mintzer told CityLab. Since launching the kids-friendly map, Growing Up Boulder has also begun developing a map for teens. They are planning to conduct a February 2020 webinar to explain the process and benefits of  map-making with the hope that other cities will follow in Boulder’s footsteps. “Part of our goal with the map is to get the idea of a child-friendly city out there, because we don’t have a sense of it in this country,” said Mintzer.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project, made possible by Allstate, tells the stories of individuals and organizations who are solving problems in their communities.