TWU Gift Program Provides Holiday Cheer for Student Parents

Finals week is enough to stress out any college student. But what about those who are balancing their studies with raising a child? A program at Texas Woman's University is making Christmas for student-parents much brighter.

On any college campus, the month of December can be downright crazy.

"It's intense, but it's all worth it," said Carolyn Mask-Oats, a senior family studies major at TWU.

Mask-Oats studies for 30 hours a week. Now, she's cramming for finals. While her school schedule is ambitious enough, her life schedule is even more so.

She is going to school full-time, all while raising a 6-year-old daughter, Aliyah. 

"I have been a non-traditional student in every sense of the word since age 16, 17," she said. 

Balancing school and parenthood is a challenge, especially with Christmas right around the corner.

"So we have that financial burden," she said. "And I don't think any child who celebrates Christmas should go without Christmas."

That's where TWU's holiday gift program comes in. Mask-Oats is one of dozens of students at the university to benefit. Parents apply based on financial need, and submit a list — first with what the child needs, and then what they want — for Christmas.

"It's a true challenge to be a parent," said Amy O'Keefe, who runs the program at TWU. "You add the challenges of being a student, and you combine them with the pressures of a holiday, that's a lot."

The holiday gift program at TWU has been around for more than 30 years. The gifts are donated almost exclusively by faculty and staff. To date, more than 3,000 student-parents have received Christmas gifts for the holiday.

"Christmas probably wouldn't happen at my house, to be honest," Mask-Oats said. "It would be very minimal.

When she looks at her daughter, Mask-Oats says she wouldn't change a thing.

"I don't feel like I've missed out on anything," she said. 

Mask-Oats graduates on Saturday.

"This is our degree," she said. "It's not just mine, and I take so much pride in knowing that this is something for us."

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