On Dec. 2, Kenyon student volunteers transformed Gund Commons into a winter wonderland — complete with multicolored holiday tinsel, an inflatable Santa that stretched from floor to ceiling and a snack table that overflowed with cookies and cocoa — for the 31st annual Shawn Kelly Holiday Party. The three-hour event served over 300 Mount Vernon families, offering a temporary reprieve from the financial insecurity that many local families face during the holiday season.
The party, which was organized by Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) and Theta Delta Phi (Thetas), was run by 60 Santa-hat-clad Kenyon students, most of whom volunteered through their Greek organizations. To identify interested families and gather specific information on the ages and interests of attendees, DKE and Theta partnered with Knox County Head Start, an organization that provides education and family services to children in Knox County. According to DKE president Dylan Osimetha ’23, working with the Head Start families through the event gave volunteers two valuable experiences: the opportunity to serve others and the chance to remember Shawn Kelly, a DKE brother renowned for his altruistic spirit who passed away in 1990. “It is a remarkable way to honor the legacy of a member of our fraternity who had a passion for serving others,” Osimetha wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Armed with sugar cookies and tacky sweaters, volunteers spent their Friday evening greeting families, serving as crossing guards and operating stations to keep the kids engaged with a range of hands-on activities. Throughout the evening, every child had the opportunity to decorate a gingerbread house, take festive pictures in photo booths equipped with holiday props and share their wishlist with Santa — whose “helpers” were members of DKE dressed in elven attire.
According to Theta Co-Service Chair Mallory Brophy ’25, the party’s extensive decorations — which included holiday-themed napkins at bright snack tables, colorful lights and a painstakingly decorated Santa station — created an environment that was nothing short of magical. The visually engaging holiday adornments, in conjunction with a special guest appearance from Santa, earned boundless enthusiasm from the children. “When you finally see the kids walk in, and they are just gleaming, they’re so excited, and especially, it really hit me when Santa started walking out,” Brophy said in an interview with the Collegian.
Beyond the evening of Yuletide festivities provided to the kids, the party also aided parents in making the holiday season a memorable one regardless of their financial situation. To combat the monetary strain that gift giving and holiday celebrations can place on families, organizers allocated funds to ensure that every child in attendance received a colorfully wrapped present appropriate for their age group — which ranged from a dog stuffed animal for the toddlers to notebooks and drawing supplies for the preteens. Furthermore, all 631 individuals who attended the event enjoyed a hot meal to accompany the entertainment, completely free of charge, according to Osimetha.
Although Kenyon’s Greek life organizations spearheaded the event, the party also drew funding and support from several other organizations. Beloved Kenyon all-male a capella group The Kokosingers donned festive sweaters and reindeer antlers to serenade the crowd with holiday classics such as “Little Saint Nick” by the Beach Boys and “Auld Lang Syne” by Robert Burns. According to Kokosinger William Breinholt ’25, the parents applauded the group enthusiastically, while the kids bubbled with enthusiasm for Santa and the holiday treats. “My favorite part was watching how excited the kids were,” Breinholt wrote in an email to the Collegian. “It felt like the holiday season had officially started.”
Preparation for such an elaborate and large-scale function was a monumental effort, with planning that began in the spring of 2022, according to Osimetha. In addition to creating a GoFundMe page that amassed donations from alumni, students and professors alike, both DKE and Theta threw several fundraisers in preparation for the party — including a DKE x Theta Turkey Trot on the Gap Trail that drew over 100 donors. Other fundraisers included tabling in Peirce Dining Hall, selling late-night snacks out of the North Campus Apartments and holding a “Theta thrift” event at which students could purchase donated clothes.
Ultimately, the exhaustive planning and fundraising efforts proved to be highly rewarding, with Theta and DKE raising an unprecedented $13,000 for the event. The funds allowed them to purchase a massive inflatable snow globe that children could race through, a blow-up snowman that welcomed the families as they walked in the door and meaningful gifts for the hundreds of children that attended.
While the decorations, food and funding raised for the event were impressive, to Osimetha, the most inspiring aspect of this year’s Shawn Kelly Holiday Party was the jubilation it brought to members of the Knox County community — as well as the impact it had on participants and volunteers alike. “In my opinion, there are few experiences more humbling than getting to serve the community around you, especially when it entails providing hope and joy to families and children in need of love,” he wrote.