Life hasn't been an easy journey for Susanne Knott.
There have been times when she and her daughters, Dawnielle, 13, and Dominique, 9, have been homeless. She's battled depression and her girls have spent time in foster care. While pregnant with Dawnielle, she would walk to the soup kitchen in order to get one good meal each day.
But things are getting better for Knott. They've been living in a southeast Brainerd townhouse for about 1-1/2 years now. She works part time at McDonald's and cleans at New Hope Community Church in Nisswa. The girls enjoy spending time with their Kinship Partners. And because the family doesn't have cable television, they like to play board games together.
"I've had some tough times and I've made some bad choices," explained Knott. "There were times when I wondered where we were going to live next. But I've grown from them and I have two beautiful daughters."
Even though Knott finds creative ways to stretch her budget each month, it can be difficult for her to buy presents for her girls each Christmas. She does try to make sure Santa has one gift for each girl under the Christmas tree.
That's where the many special Christmas gift programs in Brainerd have made a difference in the lives of her daughters. The girls have received toys and Christmas dinners from the Salvation Army. For a few years the family has been adopted by area businesses and churches through a Silent Samaritan program.
"I don't think we would have a good Christmas without it," said Knott, of the extra help.
"I've grown up with this so I'm used to it," said Dawnielle.
Dawnielle is a bright and articulate teen who excels in her advanced courses at Mississippi Horizons. She's in choir, plays the cello and tuba and is teaching herself to play the piano. She said she has never really made a Christmas list because she knows her mom couldn't afford to buy her things. Instead, the independent teen baby-sits a lot and uses her earnings to buy CD's or the things she wants. She tries to buy her mom and sister a Christmas present each year.
Dominique, who attends Riverside Elementary School, has only two things on her Christmas list: A GameBoy and a remote-controlled car. Her sister said Dominique usually has a couple of items on her lists each year, just to make sure she gets one of them.
"It really makes me happy to see Dominique be so happy to open her gifts," said Dawnielle. "She has a good Christmas. I don't wish for anything for Christmas."
"I try to make it a good Christmas for what I've got and what I can do," explained her mom. "I do think my kids deserve some type of Christmas even if I can't provide it myself."
Last year the girls were stunned when the doorbell rang and there stood eight people, all co-workers at an area business, carrying gifts for the family. They had to return to their vehicles to bring the family even more presents they had bought for them.
"It was the biggest shock of my life," said Dawnielle.
"There were so many presents they climbed up the wall," added Dominique, excitedly.
The large professional sketch pad that Dawnielle unwrapped last year was well used. She filled each page with her drawings, including a montage of the things in her life that represent her: Her faith in God, her family, ice cream (her favorite treat) and a doctor's stethoscope. She wants to be a doctor one day.
Dawnielle knows she will never get the expensive gifts her friends and classmates will receive on Tuesday, but she said it doesn't matter.
"I look at these people in other countries and they have nothing," explained the teen. "At least we have a house and each other. When I was younger I wondered how my friends could get so many gifts. And then not having a dad here ... I realized that some people have it worse than me and I'm just happy to have a Christmas. I don't think about the bad things. I've just looked at the good things."
Knott said the next thing she would love to get for her daughters is their own house.
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