OKLAHOMA - This time of year is especially difficult for children who will not get to spend the holidays with their parents.
Countless Oklahoma children have at least one parent who is incarcerated, but there is special woman who is making sure those children are not forgotten during the holidays.
Shining brighter than any ornament on the tree, this light is often the only glimpse of hope some children see.
"She has just full-time Angel Tree ministry. She has mentored over 5,000 kids, given them a Christmas party every year for 24 years and she has personally mentored 60 kids with helping them getting cars, getting their drivers license, helping them get good grades in school, get their clothes, get school supplies," said nominator Judy Bell.
For many, Judy Mills is the only light in a very dark world, illuminating not only the childhoods of the most fragile little lives but into adulthood, as well.
"There are going to be at least hundreds of kids who are going to say 'Where would I be if Judy Mills didn't do what she's doing?'" Bell said.
During the holidays, you will find Mills at the Bethany First Nazarene Church, and that's where NewsChannel 4 along with First Fidelity Bank found her volunteering.
"It's amazing to hear the story that she's creating through all the kids that she's helping and the ripple effect that's going to have for years and years. It's an honor, on my part, to represent First Fidelity Bank to present you with the $400 to help her continue the cause."
Mills had no idea she was about to be surprised.
"Thank you so much for being who you are and all you do for so many, many kids and families," Bell said.
"Billy Graham has said that, when a mother or daddy goes to prison, it's the children who do the hard time," Mills said. "Just the thought of 50 to 60 percent of the girls, 70 to 80 percent of the boys follow mom or dad to prison just broke my heart."
And, for years, she has poured her heart into the Angel Tree program, a calling that is year round, as evergreen as the trees bearing the names of so many Oklahoma angels.
"To try to lessen the load, to take some of the weight off their little shoulders, and the gifts all say from dad and your heavenly father or from mother and your heavenly father," Mills said. " We love you. And, so, what we're trying to do is keep the bonds of love between mom and dad and the children there and keep those little tender hearts knowing they're not forgotten, they haven't been abandoned."
If you'd like to help, contact the Bethany First Nazarene Church.
Pay it 4Ward is sponsored by First Fidelity Bank.