JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - On Christmas Day, many people in Region 8 opened gifts they would not have received if it weren’t for one woman’s passion for helping others.
Terry Goodwin Jones is an Attorney Ad Litem and Deputy Public Defender in Craighead County.
She has worked so hard over the years to see to the needs of children and seniors in Region 8 that an entire courtroom is filled with people she has worked with over the years.
Instead of going to lunch on a Friday at noon, judges, attorneys, foster care caseworkers, family and friends of Jones packed the courtroom and waited for just the right moment.
As the door to the courtroom opens, "Surprise!" the crowd screams and rises to their feet in thunderous applause.
After several seconds of wide-eyed surprise, Jones is overcome with emotion.
“Santa wanted us to make a very special delivery today,” I said to Jones. “He knows that you are one of his very best elves.”
"I'm just trying to get all these kids some toys," Jones responded with a choked-up voice.
At a key time in a child's life.
“Coming into foster care is detrimental. It’s traumatizing in itself. Especially around the holidays,” Gregory Daffron, a foster care caseworker for Craighead County said.
And if Terry’s around, no child will go without... even if it’s at the last minute.
“So here, these two teenagers come into foster care and we’re trying to scramble to figure out how to get them something or anything for Christmas,” Daffron said. “Terry just stepped up and used her own money and was able to get them something for Christmas.”
Jones doesn’t just focus on kids.
She also advocates for seniors who are without families at Christmas.
“She will always have wraps and blankets for the elderly and lotion and socks and things of that nature to take to them,” Charlene Henry, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, said.
And what started with Jones just trying to coordinate efforts to cover Craighead County children with presents now has grown.
She has gotten others on board to help and the gift giving has stretched to cover parts of four counties.
“It has now involved other people and other attorneys and staff at the courthouse. Everybody that I can, she can reach out to have gotten involved and it’s been really neat to watch,” Cindy Thyer, Circuit Judge for the Second Judicial District, said. Judge Thyer nominated Terry for the Gr8 Acts of Kindness.
"You never ever stop caring. You never ever stop giving," I said as Jones and the rest of the crowd looked on inside the courtroom. "When Terry Jones is around, it's Christmas all year long. And that's why it's Christmas all year long and that's why you are the next winner in the Gr8 Acts of Kindness!"
"Thank you very much. I really appreciate it," Jones said. "I couldn't be anymore shocked than if I was shot out of a cannon!"
"When you win the Gr8 Acts of Kindness, you win money from First Community Bank and KAIT," I said.
"Three hundred, four hundred, five, six, seven, eight," I counted the money into her hands.
"We'd like to give this as a token in appreciation for what you do in our community in the way that you help children and adults not only in the representation but in being a year-long Santa," David Daniel with First Community Bank said.
Friends and co-workers gathered around Jones to give her hugs.... something she usually reserves just for the children. But, on this day, everyone wanted to embrace her and share how special she is to the community.
"You're an inspiration to all of us," Daffron, said. "Going all across the state and getting all of these gifts for these kids."
"I appreciate that immensely, " Jones said.
The bailiff embraced Jones and said, "I love you so," she said. "You do good stuff. All the time.”
"This is such an honor," Jones said. "I am so thrilled beyond belief!"
"I had a Dad who didn't get much growing up and he used to impress on us about how important it was for kids to feel special at some point in their life," Jones explained to the crowd.
Jones' father had a difficult life as a child.
"My Dad was a very generous man and he used to...sorry... I cry," Jones said. "I cry every time I talk about him."
His mother, Jones' grandmother, died from tuberculosis.
"He was barefoot without a jacket and he was walking down the streets of Batesville. It was Moorefield, just outside of Batesville," Jones explained.
"A man walked up and said, 'Son, Where's your coat?'"
He didn't have one, nor shoes to fit.
"He felt the man hit him in the chest and the pocket in his shirt got heavy. He said 'Sir, I didn't steal this.' He said, 'No, I know you didn't steal it. That's your Christmas. We're gonna go in here and get you some shoes and a coat.'"
That man was a judge in Independence County and his simple act of kindness changed everything... right down to who Jones married and her sole focus in life...helping others.
"I work with Santa and he is Santa," Jones said.
“They even bought a storage building a few years ago because they were accumulating all these Christmas items and have a place to store them," Judge Thyer explained.
Jones' niece and other family members have joined the efforts.
And in the courtroom, her generosity continues...
"I would watch her in court give our her number and she would say, 'Call me and I will put you in touch with someone for a job,'" Judge Thyer said of what she had seen in her courtroom.
“It’s my chance to give you a hug. Thank you so much, honey! You’re the best.”
Well-wishers continued to make their way to Jones for a hug at her surprise inside the courtroom.
"These are from everyone in Dependency and Neglect Court," Henry said. "Oh! We love you."
"She's an inspiration," Daffron said. "I guarantee everyone in that room, their lives have been made better in some way by Terry Jones.”
"Thank you so much again. I appreciate it," Jones said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Because of Jones' effort to coordinate the gift-giving this year, there were a minimum of 148 sponsors for the toy drive this year and over 250 kids from three counties and part of a fourth county were served.
There were also 65 gift bags for adults in nursing homes and hospitals.