December 2023

The Gift of Community

Bringing the spirit of the season to a local school district.

Pulling off an ambitious community event always takes a village. But sometimes, it also takes a little magic from Santa himself!

On Thursday, December 7th, the NewMark Merrill team spent an afternoon at Inglewood High School in Inglewood, California, hosting a one-of-a-kind holiday party. Our guests of honor were more than 300 four- to eight-year-old students from 11 different elementary schools in the Inglewood Unified School District (USD).

The children enjoyed cookie decorating, crafts, games, dancing, music and gifts. However, the day’s highlight was an individual visit with each student from “Sandy” Claus—aka NewMark Merrill President and CEO Sandy Sigal.

A Festive Vision

At NewMark Merrill, giving back is central to our mission. So, as the year comes to a close, we knew we wanted to celebrate the season by making a tangible impact in the community.

“We wanted to serve a community that one of our shopping centers was in,” said Theresa Algots, executive assistant and lead organizer for this event. “We remembered that the Inglewood Unified School District’s ASES After School Program was created specifically for children in the area to help them prepare for college, so it was a perfect fit.”

Theresa and her team quickly got to work coordinating an event in collaboration with the Inglewood USD, just a stone’s throw from our Crenshaw Imperial Plaza shopping center, and began bringing the day to life. 

“The ASES After School Program within Inglewood USD was honored to be selected to receive a holiday extravaganza from NewMark Merrill Companies,” said La Tonya Babin, M.Ed., director of expanded learning programs at Inglewood USD. “Our students were offered a full afternoon of enrichment filled with arts and crafts, music, dancing, games, sweet treats and a special conversation with Santa Claus.”

A Team Effort

The gathering may have required a fast turnaround time, but that didn’t stop our team from going all out. As soon as they confirmed the details, staff members began researching the season’s most popular gifts. To ensure each student received the perfect present, our committee spent hours shopping at our stores to be sure all of the children received a truly special gift.

In total, the NewMark Merrill team purchased 325 gifts. Each one was thoughtfully tailored to the age group of the child. There was something for everyone, from Legos and Barbies to bracelet-making kits and Hot Wheels sets. 

That was only the beginning. In the days leading up to the event, the Community Giving Committee organized a series of six wrapping parties during lunch breaks and after work. Our employees wrapped every present, topping each package with colorful ribbons. This provided an opportunity to give back and a way to connect and re-calibrate during a busy period, giving everyone a chance to refocus on the joy the season can bring.

Those efforts were immediately repaid by the happy faces we saw when our guests started to arrive.

“It was very rewarding to see the kids and how excited they were,” Larissa Yllescas, a member of the Community Giving Committee, told us. “But it was just as rewarding to see how we all worked together to deliver this event in such a short time frame. Around 40 employees came out to wrap, and various committees lent a hand with research and logistics. It was truly a team effort.”

Fun, Games and Giveaways

On the day of the party, approximately 100 employees turned out to make sure it went off without a hitch. This included a group of Santa’s helpers, who worked nonstop to guarantee every child left with a smile. But no one worked harder than NewMark Merrill’s very own Santa. 

“The holidays are a special time of the year, and the children were our focus for the gift-giving received from Santa Claus, Mr. Sandy Sigal,” said Babin.

Decked out in full costume, Sandy met with students and presented them with a hand-picked gift. At 5:00 p.m., when the event was scheduled to end, there was still a line of children patiently waiting their turn. Sandy made sure no one left disappointed and had a personal conversation with each student, spending over three hours chatting, laughing and spreading holiday cheer.

When they weren’t visiting Santa, the kids could decorate cookies, choose from more than 20 crafting stations and play interactive games—including a festive round of ring toss with staff members dressed up as reindeer. Music was provided by local sensation DJ Aye Jae of Inglewood. Along with their gift, each student took home a goody bag stuffed with candy, books and crayons. 

“I received nothing but glowing reviews, smiles and praise for the partnership to host such a special day with our Inglewood USD youth for the holidays,” Babin told us. “The students after school deserve to feel special too.”

A Year-Round Impact

The holiday party wasn’t the first large-scale community gathering we orchestrated this year. Helmed by the Community Giving Committee, our giving initiatives aim to positively influence the areas surrounding our shopping centers through events, volunteer work and donations.

Ultimately, our goal is to provide engaging experiences for local residents and employees alike, helping team members forge deeper connections in the neighborhoods they live and work in. Unsurprisingly, our focus on creating a vibrant, community-oriented culture is a point of pride for all of us. 

“People know that—when it comes to giving back—we walk the talk,” said Lisa Polis, vice president of people operations. “We can tell you what we did this year to make a difference, and people are excited to be a part of that. It’s real. It’s very important to all of us, and it feels good to have that story to tell.”