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SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas only happens once a year, but for one Utah man, a single day made all the difference in the world.
The year was 1978. Two boys, ages 8 and 9, sat up on Christmas Eve talking about why Santa Claus would not visit him on a night that was so special to so many other children around the world.
Their dinner that night, as on many nights, had been boxed macaroni and cheese — no butter, no milk. Their mother had sat up with them shortly before passing out drunk to tell them that Santa wasn't coming that year.
"That's just how we lived," Chris Harrington said. "It just kind of was what it was."
Harrington and his little brother were living with their mother in a trailer just outside of Paige, Arizona, having fled there one night from Kanab after learning they might have to go into foster care. They woke up Christmas morning and, having no beds, lay on the floor for a time, reluctant to leave the presence of their space heater.
When they finally did leave their room, they found that "something magical had taken place."
"It was all decorated. There was a tree, lights, everything. There was fruit — we never saw fruit. You don't really spend your money on fruit when you're in that situation," Harrington said.
He said there were clothes, full stockings, toys and even two bikes. "It was a full Christmas," he said, beyond anything I'd ever seen, and I didn't see again, in terms of my childhood. It was amazing. There was a note that just said, ‘Love, Santa.'"
The boys speculated about who would do such a thing, but no one ever came forward. They weren't members of any church, and they had no family in a situation to provide such a gift. For Harrington, it was the impetus, at a young age, to turn his life around.
- 1,987 kids entered foster care.
- Substance abuse was a factor in 62% of children placed in foster care
- Neglect accounted for 47% of children served in custody.
- 2,708 children were in state custody on the last day of the fiscal year • 33% of children served in foster care were in kinship placement for some of the time they were in care
- Custody is awarded to relatives in 15% of cases of children leaving foster care.
- The median length of stay in foster care for children exiting is 12 months
- 54% of children entering foster care exited within 12 months, 51% of these children are reunified.
- Adoption occurs approximately 8 months after termination of parental rights.
"I realized I had a choice," he said. "I swore there would be a time when I would be able to take care of people, and not just my family, but be able to take care of people."
He said it was a "changing moment in my life," forcing him to decide whether he would choose a different lifestyle, or fall into the habits of the rest of his family.
"I remember one time I said I want to be rich enough so that if I wanted a pair of shoes, I could just go buy them," Harrington said. "I just wanted to be able to go buy a pair of shoes, and not have the soles flopping all the time, trying to glue them or staple them so they'd stay on my feet. That was the extent of my goal."
He said he associated being able to purchase a pair of shoes with wealth and security, and the thought drove him for a long time.
Now president of Domo, a business intelligence software company based in American Fork, Harrington said that single event 34 years ago was enough to bring him to where he is today — but he will never forget the countless children who find themselves in similar situations every day.
Having been a foster child himself, Harrington often focuses his Christmas efforts on those children — this year, providing Christmas for two families with foster children — but he said that may not be the answer for everyone looking to make a difference in the life of another.
"I don't know that there's something specific, but just look around. Pay attention. Do anything. If you're not doing something, think of someone else for a minute, and try to help," he said. "I think when you give and you help someone, that creates a new energy for that person — it creates a new energy for you."