JoLicia Cooper, 13, and her sister Joi, 11, worked carefully to decorate their gingerbread cookies Saturday at the program center of the Girls Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois in Rock Island.

The sisters, of Rock Island, were part of a contingent of 115 Girl Scouts enjoying a Christmas gathering to help at-risk girls ages 5-11 in the Quad-Cities.

“This is our third year doing this,” said JoLicia, who attends Edison Junior High School in Rock Island where she plays cello in the orchestra and on the volleyball team. “We always have a good time playing the games and just enjoying doing different crafts.”

“I enjoyed the gingerbread decorating,” said Joi, who plays the violin and attends Rock Island Academy.

This is the fourth year the Girl Scouts have teamed with Ganson’s Neighborhood Bakery and Café in Rock Island to ensure that at-risk youth have a merry Christmas with pizza and crafts and a visit from Santa Claus.

This is the first year that the event has been held at the Girl Scout’s program center. It previously was held at Ganson’s.

“It just got too big,” said Ganson’s owner Chris Thompson. “This has more room to move around, and it allows the girls to have more to do.”

While one group of girls was on the second floor decorating cookies, or engaging in face-painting or crafts, another group played board games, including Monopoly and Life. On the first floor, other groups played games such as Simon Says or danced.

The girls knew that it was all about Christmas fun.

“Ask me what I like about Christmas and I’d tell you it’s Christmas trees and presents and I could go on and on,” said Mallory Day, 11, a fifth-grade student at Longfellow Liberal Arts School in Rock Island.

“I liked the crafts and the pizza," said Shermiya Domas, 8, who attends Rock Island Academy.

Missy Sweeney, senior membership outreach manager for the Girl Scouts, said that all of the girls attending are scouts and that everything for the party, from the Christmas presents for the girls, to the pizza, to all the items for crafts, was paid for with donations.  

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“We collected 125 gifts this year from the patrons of Ganson’s, and one woman donated enough money to pay for the pizzas from Little Caesar's,” Sweeney said. “The community really came through for the girls.”

Organizers were assisted by 50 members of Junior League of the Quad-Cities, who used the party as one of their Done-in-a-Day projects.

“This event aligns with our mission of empowering women and improving our community,” said Jessica Schultz, chair of the Done-in-a-Day program.

The program seeks opportunities for Junior League members to volunteer for high-impact activities that can achieve quick results.

The main event of the afternoon was the arrival of Santa Claus, who walked in the room ready to hand out presents to the girls.

The minute Santa entered, one little girl ran to give him hug and the rest of the girls followed. Then it was time for them all to tell Santa their wishes for Christmas and receive a gift.

“I really had a good time,” said Zaryah Tate, 11, who attends Longfellow Liberal Arts School in Rock Island. “All I really wanted for Christmas was colored tape to make wallets. This was really a lot of fun.”

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