MANATEE — One of little Joseph Wortham Jr.’s favorite things is to run onto the court for a frenetic workout before his daddy plays pick-up basketball with friends.
Now the 23-month-old has a ball of his very own, thanks to Bradenton’s Family Partnership Center and its Christmas gift program.
Parental educator Terri Wallis dropped off 25 wrapped gifts this week for Joseph “Jay” Jr. and his brother, 9-month-old Jotaevian “Tay”, at the Citrus Meadows apartment complex.
Parents Joseph Wortham Sr. and Tashae Gaither allowed the boys to open one gift apiece. The others remained stacked under a miniature Christmas tree in the living room.
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Joseph Jr. immediately began bouncing the black and red mini-basketball he received through the apartment. Initially distracted by the pretty green and gold paper, Jotaevian eventually unwrapped a set of alphabet stacking blocks.
Wortham Sr., 24, and Gaither, 23, appreciate the holiday help. He is studying business administration at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota and doing temporary work when it is available. She is seeking her high school diploma at Richard Milburn Academy.
“For us, we wouldn’t be able to give them too much,” Gaither said. “All Tay wants is something to play with, and all Jay wants is something to write on or something that lights up.”
The Family Partnership Center is a nonprofit organization that provides families free in-home parenting service, community-based mentoring groups, classes and workshops.
Businesses and organizations adopt the families referred by Family Partnership Center, and local churches contribute gift cards for a holiday meal.
Wallis delivered gifts to six families Tuesday, twice filling her compact Toyota.
“Things are tight for people all over,” Wallis said. “A lot of the families I work with are struggling. For me, it’s great to be able to see the joy on their faces. This is a real special time to be a part of this.”
Gaither got in touch with Family Partnership Center after Child Protective Services investigated an incident in which Joseph Jr. was burned by hot bath water.
Wallis has been meeting with the parents for about 16 months, offering advice on safety and child development.
“They’re good people to call when I need help,” Gaither said. “I wish I could repay them, but I can’t.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a family. I felt like I have someone who cares. She was there to help me, even when things got tough.”