A Corbin woman’s efforts to make Christmas just a little better for one local boy have received international attention, and she says she hopes its just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her charitable efforts.
Tonya Ridener said she started the subgroup on Reddit.com "Random Acts of Christmas" in 2011 as a way to help children and families who have needs to have a better holiday. Her nickname on the site is Pookie85.
"I love helping people. It’s something that was instilled in me as a child," Ridener, a 2004 graduate of Corbin High School, said. "I was one of those kids too. If it had not been for my grandparents, we would not have had such great Christmases when I was growing up."
Reddit.com is social news site where users submit their own content, usually in the form of a link to some external news source. Members of the group "Random Acts of Christmas" work together to raise money to buy toys for kids and fulfill other wishes.
Ridener, who works for Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Barbourville said that while the beneficiaries of her online activities are often not local, she saw a need right at home. Coworkers Bryan and Monica Anderson have a 13-year-old son, Cameron, who has Down Syndrome. He’s a huge fan of the comic book character Iron Man.
Ridener said she went about trying to arrange for Iron Man to visit Cameron in his Corbin home. When that proved too costly, she instead worked with other Reddit users to arrange for a "cosplayer" in Texas to create a personalized video from Iron Man for Cameron as a Christmas present. She spearheaded writing out the script for the video. Soon, voiceover was done and the present was complete.
"He had a really awesome costume. It was just amazing," Ridener said. "I’m really proud of it. I’m glad we could do that for them … He [Cameron] was really shocked. You can see the surprise on his face."
The video took about a month and a half to organize, but Ridener said the results are worth it.
"It warms my heart. He’s an incredibly intelligent boy. To see his face light up to see a message from his hero is amazing," Ridener said.
Links to the video and the responses are available at www.thenewsjournal.net.
Ridener said she originally got the idea for "Random Acts of Christmas" from a similar group called "Random Acts of Pizza" set up to send pizza to people who are going through hard times as a way to make them feel better.
The group’s efforts on Cameron’s behalf received press coverage in the United Kingdom and France as well as online at sites like The Daily Dot (www.dailydot.com).
In the future, Ridener said she would like to start another group that she’s tentatively calling "Cause Play" to organize more events like the one staged for Cameron.
"I’m not a rich person, but I like to help people," Ridener said. "I’m all about the volunteer stuff."