Accountants wrapped up in giving for Chrysalis House kids

Billy Manning lent a hand at the firm's wrapping party.
Billy Manning lent a hand at the firm's wrapping party. Lexington Herald-Leader

Normally, the partners and staff at Dulworth, Breeding, Karns & Pleasants are mild-mannered certified public accountants. But once a year, they become Santa's helpers.

Since 1996, the Lexington firm has used the office-party fund to buy Christmas presents for the children of women at Chrysalis House, a non-profit program for women dealing with alcohol or substance abuse.

"Every year, we have a vote: Do you want to have a formal party, which nobody wants to do, or take the money and go buy gifts for a child? Everybody really likes to do that," said Lindy Karns, a partner in the firm.

Karns is vice president of Chrysalis House's board. Other board members and employees of the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden also buy gifts, including some for the kids to give their mothers.

"We're just so fun," Karns said, a bit tongue-in-cheek. "We have a really good group of people who feel very strongly about helping the community."

Chrysalis House, which focuses on helping women and their families going through recovery, appealed because of the family aspect.

"When we started doing this ... everyone had young kids, and we were attracted to people who were trying to keep families intact," she said. "The holidays can be stressful to people who don't have enough money."

Many of the women, who are on a two-year road to sober independence, might have very little to put toward presents. And in any given year, there are dozens and dozens of children — some living at Chrysalis House, some just visiting their mothers — who need gifts. This year, there are 130 children, including 28 babies born to pregnant mothers admitted this year.

"The mothers that come to us, many times their situation is heart-breaking," said Lisa Minton, executive director of Chrysalis House.

So the accountants race in. Literally, Karns said. Just before Thanksgiving, when the "wish lists" from individual children are posted on the office refrigerator in the break room, "everybody runs to get them. I like that everybody's so into it."

Minton said most people want to buy cute little things for the babies. Karns, she said, looks out for the teenagers.

"The teenagers always have her heart," Minton said. "People want to give stuff that people need. She understands they're in school, they have peers, they want the cool stuff, too."

So the CPAs make sure they get "the fun stuff," she said.

The firm puts in an average of about $75 a child, but people often buy more than that, especially if the child wants a big-ticket item such as a bike or electronic games.

Most requests are modest. A little girl might ask for boots; Karns made sure they were Uggs; boys want "anything sports," so she gets them University of Kentucky Wildcats gear.

"I think they make them say 'clothes,' " Karns said. "What kid really wants socks?"

Then, once the purchases are made, all the presents are brought to the office for one big wrapping/pizza party.

For people used to dealing with tax forms and IRS audits and financial planning, it's a welcome break.

Sometimes for the IRS, as well. Karns said that one year, an auditor saw the piles of gifts, the wrapping paper, the pizza ... and asked what was going on.

"When I told her, she came in the next day with lots of toys that her children had to give away. They were used, and we took them to the Community Christmas store, but it was great! ... People do like to give, and sometimes they just need an outlet," Karns said.

Minton said the mothers are grateful that, for 14 years now, Santa has had some help.

"Chrysalis House is just really blessed that they chose to do this, and they do it year after year," said Minton.

Mothers write to say thanks for the opportunity to give their kids a nice Christmas.

"To all those who made it possible for my child to have an amazing first Christmas, I just want to say I thank you from the bottom of my heart," one mother wrote last year.

"I feel all warm and fuzzy when I think about all the children that will spend Christmas with moms who are clean and sober. We could not do it without you all," said a thank-you from the "caterpillars and butterflies."

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