Decorating HOME for the Holidays

Last night I drove out to Bellview to Hands of Mercy Everywhere (HOME), an 11-bedroom home where teen mothers and their babies can live and receive valuable care as the mothers continue their high school education.

A group of my Junior League of Ocala friends and I arrived around 6 p.m. to decorate the Victorian home for the holidays with the young women and children who live there.

HOME Bellview

We came with lights, ornaments, decorations and bags full of clothes for the moms and their children.

And snacks!!!

One of the young women I met and I bonded over our love for peppermint bark! That stuff is addicting and so perfectly festive. Someone also brought a chocolate bark made with caramel and pretzels that I am hoping to recreate. It was a hit! 

The time we spent at HOME was incredible and I loved talking with the young moms and meeting their adorable children.


This morning started out extra early.

Ryan and I usually wake up around 5 a.m. to workout on weekdays, but today we were up at 4:40 a.m. I know that is only 20 minutes earlier than usual, but anything in the 4 a.m. hour is simply not normal for this girl. Brutal!

Ryan had a super-early meeting at work and wanted to get his workout done before 6 a.m. so we pulled into the gym parking lot right when it opened at 5 a.m. I thought about sleeping in and working out at lunchtime, but I was oddly alert when the alarm went off and knew I’d toss and turn if I tried to go back to sleep. I am feeling oddly energetic right now, but that’s probably the coffee talking.

Today’s workout began with 20 minutes on the elliptical before I headed into the weight room to follow Workout B from Tina’s Best Body Boot Camp program. The workout included a strength circuit with bursts of cardio. I left out the cardio portion of the circuit since I wasn’t really feeling it and wanted to be sure I had enough time to do all of the strength exercises before we had to leave.


Breakfast this morning was enjoyed in the dark.

pancakes with sweet potato butter 017

I made a batch of my honey whole wheat pumpkin pancakes but used sweet potato butter in place of the pumpkin and loved the added spice!

Sweet Potato Butter Pancakes


Question of the Morning

  • What is one of the most memorable volunteer experiences you’ve had in your life?


  1. says

    Recently my family held a fundraiser for family friends from Breezy Point, NY who lost their cars and home from the flooding due to the hurricane Sandy. Knowing that we’ll help them recover and hopefully still have a good holiday season was a great feeling.


  2. Cathryn says

    I was a swimmer in college and we volunteered to read and play at the local children’s hospital in the oncology wing. I have never been so humbled in my life. Those children carried so much hope and optimism it will stick with me forever.


  3. says

    My most memorable volunteering experience was at a camp for foster kids. The entire week was heartbreaking, but taking them back was the worst. It is amazing how fast you get attached to them! I would have kept them all if I could have!


  4. says

    I worked for a non-profit for awhile. The building I worked in had a school for disabled, “differently abled,” and regularly abled children. Every single event we had that they were involved in was my favorite. The kids were so cute, and they were always just so happy to be doing whatever it was we were doing that day. Santa coming to hand out books was my favorite day!


  5. says

    That is so sweet of you to go & volunteer to decorate the HOME & donate clothes. It actually sounds like a pretty good time! I haven’t volunteered in a while, but I always loved volunteering with my mom at the local animal shelter. We clean kitty cages & give love to all of those homeless, unwanted kitties. It was sad, but good to know we were making their lives a teeny bit better. We also donated supplies. Now my husband & I pick an animal rescue or shelter & donate money or purchase raised bedding for them each year at x-mas time. Feels good.


  6. says

    I LOVE that you did this! I work part-time for a group home. It started as a group home JUST for teen mothers but we now house sibling groups as well. And I know how important it is to us, the staff, and to the girls to have people who love them and care for them. This warms my heart.

    And thank you for blogging about it and raising awareness for girls who are teen moms and doing their best to continue their education!


  7. says

    When my son was in Jr High, we volunteered together at a homeless shelter for women & children. We would cook dinner for them and play with the kids. There was this one toddler that followed my son around and always wanted to play with him. It was so special to see my tween-ager touch someones life in that way.


  8. Christina says

    First off, thank you for that refreshing piece on HOME. Life is hard enough when you are a teenager, but with a child it can be ven harder. You and the volunteers probably made their holiday extra special with your helping hands.

    Ok, now I have to ask, you work from home, so why do you get up so early to work out with Ryan? Wouldnt you prefer to sleep in later and work out later too? haha 🙂


  9. Dianne says

    So cool! I have just joined the Junior League in Pittsburgh, PA and have already had some great experiences. My favorite volunteer activity at this time of the year is with an organization called Gwen’s Girls (helping girls of all ages in varying difficult situations). A group of women from my company get together to throw them a huge holiday party- complete with dinner, dancing, arts and crafts, games and lots of of laughs!


  10. says

    What a cool thing to help decorate that house! Sounds like fun and a great way to volunteer your time. I am volunteering at a race this weekend. It’s probably the only volunteer work I’ve done in years. I do have volunteering on the brain though so hopefully I can help out more in the future.


  11. says

    I usually wake up at 5 also, but those times when it has to be 4:30 can be awful! But in general if I wake up before 5 (within an hour), I just get up anyway, because if I go back to sleep and get woken up in deep sleep, then I will be groggy and tired all day!


  12. Dana says

    Just had to comment – this morning, when the gym alarm went off, the boyfriend asked what time it was and I answered “4:56.” His response was that he can get his head around 5am just barely, and anything in the 4ish time felt wrong.


  13. says

    When I used to work at ESPN, they had a TON of volunteer opportunities and I loved them. Last year, I volunteered to help the ARC of Bristol decorate their building for Christmas and it was so rewarding. I talked about it for days, and I have been looking to volunteer down here in Florida too!


  14. says

    I am totally with you on the whole 4:40am thing.. BRUTAL.. I have to get up to train clients at 5 sometimes which means I have to be up by 4. Thank goodness for caffeine!! Luckily its not often..;)

    My most memorable experience is when I went to ethiopia with a dentist I used to work for and we pulled teeth of the people their (kids and adults!). They have no dentist and worked in a sugar cane field.. They were so thankful for us to just get their teeth out that were causing them pain. It was a whole different world their and makes me grateful for everything we have available to us in the US that we take for granted.. like running water, toilets, doctors etc.
    Ill never forget it!


  15. says

    I spent many years volunteering to visit a woman in her 90s who had lost her husband and was living in a nursing home. While it was heartbreaking to see her go from vivid and bright to living with dementia (and she eventually passed away a year and a half ago), the memories I have from spending time with her are strong.


  16. says

    Way to go on the morning workout!

    That’s so wonderful you helped out with HOME.
    I love volunteering. I’ll never forget volunteering all summer at a seniors home. We had “spa-day Fridays” for the women, and it was pretty amazing to sit and chat with him while painting their nails. You realize that all they love is a little bit of your time.

    Have a fab day!


  17. says

    What a great way to spend your evening and I’m sure the ladies at HOME truly appreciated every single one of you for coming over. I really need to do more volunteer things because I enjoy it but I guess I just never know how or where to START.


  18. says

    Thy sounds like such a fun way to volunteer! I was a Girls On the Run coach this fall, which I loved! But in high school I went on a trip to Miami for a week where we worked with Habitat for Humanity, that was definitely memorable!


  19. says

    Aw, what a nice thing to do! Sounds like you had a lot of fun too 🙂 I think that most volunteer experiences that involve helping other people are always rewarding…I’ve never had an experience where the people weren’t SO grateful to us for helping. More so than I’d ever expect. It’s so nice!


  20. says

    A few years ago I volunteered to stay overnight at my church with a group of homeless people. Every church in the area takes a month and opens their gym doors to the homeless shelter as overflow. They also provide breakfast for them every day that month. I did both on separate days. It was amazing. They bring cots and sleeping bags and games. The organization was unbelievable. They ask for two volunteers and leave you there. It was scary at first but these people are not scary at all. There were so many children and sweet people who were down on their luck. It was very eye opening and rewarding to feel as if I connected and helped.


  21. Christine says

    I saw the chocolate bark with pretzel and caramel recipe on Pinterest (of course!) I will definitely make it now that you’ve confirmed its yumminess!


  22. Jessie says

    Throughout most of my childhood I was apart of a 4-H club. We focused around horses. One Christmas we volunteered giving a Christmas to disabled children. I was probably nine or ten so I don’t remember the name of the group. We ate a huge feast together and opened presents with them. Santa was there too. I remember buying a gift specifically for one child and I was able to watch him open it. It was excellent and true gift giving experience! I will never forget it.


  23. says

    That really is nice of you to do that. I used to volunteer all the time when I was younger.. lately I’ve been corresponding with a solider to show my support so I’m thinking of sending him a care package for the holidays 🙂


  24. says

    I have been volunteering at a women’s and children’s homeless shelter for a few months now, and I have grown pretty attached to some of the kids I work with. I didn’t think I would form such special relationships, but I really care about those kids!


  25. says

    Good for you, girl!
    When I was in high school I went on a missions trip to Buffalo, NY and it was such an eye-opener. It’s the poorest city in the richest state…It was a really scary experience, but was so so impacting on my life (I know that sounds cliche but it’s true!)


  26. Jessica says

    My most memorable volunteer experience actually comes with a crazy story!! A few years back I was volunteering at the children’s hospital in my home town. We were on the 9th floor (right below where the helicopters land!) when a helicopter had a malfunction landing and crashed onto the landing pad. We had to quickly rush all of our patients down the stairs while the helicopter burnt up above us! Luckily everyone was okay, but man, what an experience!


  27. LG says

    My husband is Santa and I’m the elf at my company’s kids Christmas party. It is hilarious and fun every year. :0)

    Other than that, probably going on a short-term mission trip to Tijuana to build houses. Quite an eye-opener…


  28. Samantha says

    When I was a freshman in college, I volunteered at Pleasant Place, a home just like the one you visited, but it was in Gainesville, FL. It was crazy to think I was only a couple years older than these girls, but they have children. Spending so much time with them (I went twice a week for a whole semester for tutoring) really brought me close to the girls and the kids. I made some great friends by the end of it, and I still think of my time there fondly.


  29. says

    your dedication to helping others is truly heart-warming and genuinely refreshing. You’ve inspired me to give back by taking time this holiday season and helping others 😀


  30. Chelsea says

    What a great volunteering opportunity you had! I am sure the moms and children were very grateful. My most memorable volunteer experience was last January when I volunteered for three weeks in Nicaragua providing physical therapy services to children with disabilities. I am finishing up my doctorate in physical therapy and this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! We stayed and worked in the villages that were about 3 hours away from the capital. The people in the community are highly under served and it was such an amazing experience to help wherever we could. The most amazing part is that although we were there to volunteer and help, I think I ended up learning the most while I was there because of the positive outlook on life the Nicaraguan people have despite the conditions they live in. Definitely one of the most powerful experiences I have had!


  31. Rache says

    That sounds like great volunteer work 🙂 Erm, if you get up at 4:40 (shuddering), what time do you go to bed??! I struggle to get out the door for my 6 a.m. run 🙂


  32. says

    Our local news did a mini telethon last night for people to call in and “Adopt a Family” for Salvation Army. When you call they ask you what size of family you wold like to adopt. I chose a family of four. I love to do this and know that I am making a Christmas morning better for a family. They actually send you a list of the families ages and sizes and a bit of a wish list. You deliver the gifts to Salvation Army and they deliver them to the family. I always wish I could meet the family, but I understand the anonymity and respect it. Several years ago I adopted a family of 12 through my job, and my company paid for the gifts while my daughter and I did all the shopping. That’s my favorite volunteer experience! Wish I could have been a fly on the wall in their house that Christmas morning.


  33. says

    Most of the times I’ve volunteered, I’ve worked with people and children, and to be completely honest, they weren’t the best of experiences. People were a little on the mean side, including some snotty kids. I wish the experiences had been nice and memorable in a good way, but they weren’t. Maybe I should volunteer with a Siberian Husky rescue here in Omaha. I like dogs more than people, I think. 🙂


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