Santa comes early for diocesan preschool classrooms

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Two St. Vincent de Paul preschoolers examine toys donated by the Learning Journey during a visit to the school Dec. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Gift through CCF provides educational toys

Sans the snow and eight tiny reindeer, Christmas came early for children attending the 29 preschools in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Their teachers each received a significant allotment of educational toys through a Catholic Community Foundation donation to be used in the classroom.

Phoenix-based The Learning Journey Intl. LLC designs, manufactures and distributes a line of award-winning children’s interactive educational products.

Owners JB and Debbie Frere — parishioners at Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale — donated toys worth $35,000 that were distributed among the preschool classrooms, including two surprise visits at St. Gregory and St. Vincent de Paul Schools Dec. 18.

The couple, whose two children attended Catholic preschool, elementary and high school in the diocese and received scholarships through CCF, wanted to “pay it forward” as their company grew.

In 2014 they were able to start an endowment fund that supports one Christian Service Award every four years.

“We believe that a Catholic education is a gift and we want to assist in making sure that as many children that want to take advantage of that gift — can,” Debbie said.

David Pederson, senior director of major gifts for CCF, said the Freres have been part of the foundation’s programs for many years, particularly through their involvement in the CSA program.

Debbie and JB Frere, parishioners at Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale and co-owners of the Learning Journey, smile after receiving thank-you messages from preschoolers at St. Vincent de Paul School Dec. 18. (Tony Gutiérrez/CATHOLIC SUN)

Both their son and daughter have visited Catholic schools to promote the scholarship program for students.

Pederson said the Freres’ generosity to the youngest children attending diocesan schools is reflective of the spirit of Christmas; sharing gifts with family and friends in honor of God’s gift to the world — His son, Jesus Christ.

“This gift, in particular, is so unique and fun. It brings not only joy and smiles, but also educational tools to 1,165 preschool children and their teachers,” Pederson said.

The company’s product line, which builds on skills necessary to be prepared for school, includes Cash Cow; Chatterbox Teaching Telephone; Match It! Spelling; Techno Gears Marble Mania Galaxy; and Puzzles in Motion! Click It! Rainforest.

A preschool girl at St. Gregory School is excited to hold a toy donated to her classroom by the Learning Journey Dec. 18. (Jessica Reyes/CATHOLIC SUN via Catholic Community Foundation)

The toys are tested by children attending Freres’ childhood development center, and they know from experience that replacing toys and educational aids can get expensive.

“We are overjoyed by this generous gift of learning materials. More than 60 little children will reap the benefits of these educational toys for years to come,” said Gloria Jiffy Yslava, St. Vincent de Paul preschool director.

“These toys along with our language arts curriculum will enhance the learning experience of all of our current children and future students. ‘That’s awesome,’ and ‘I’m so excited,’ are a few of many endearing comments our children exclaimed at the news that a special someone is gifting them new toys,” she said.

The preschool children are now busily coloring, cutting and pasting special gifts and cards in appreciation of the new toys.

“It is important for businesses of any size to give back to the community that supports them,” Debbie said, adding, “This is why we are making this donation to the preschools. It is in giving that one truly receives.”