Sheriff work program helps keep spirit of SJ's Christmas in the Park alive

Dustin Dorsey Image
Friday, December 1, 2023
Sheriff work program keeping spirit of SJ Christmas in the Park alive
Christmas in the Park wouldn't be possible without a special group of helpers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office work program.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose's holiday tradition Christmas in the Park is off and running.

The work to get the park open takes months and the job continues throughout the winter season. And it wouldn't be possible without a special group of Santa's helpers from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office work program.

Christmas in the Park holds a special place in the hearts of many and for those who take part in bringing it to life, the love is on another level.

"I love bringing my friends and family around and showing them that, 'I painted that, I helped build that. You don't understand what it takes to create this display,'" former work program participant Kathryn Thompson said.

It's a bond built not by choice but by necessity.

A second DUI left San Jose resident Thompson at a crossroads between jail time and community service.

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The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Work Program brought her to Santa's San Jose Workshop - the operational warehouse of Christmas in the Park.

"When I was ordered to my 60 days of community service, the judge mandated three days a week," Thompson said. "He said, 'I firmly believe you need more structure in your life.' And the structure that working here gave me actually did put my life back in perspective and helped me focus on what I wanted to do once I completed my job here."

Thompson was just one of the dozens of weekly participants with non-violent misdemeanors in the program that has been a part of Christmas in the Park for nearly half its existence.

The duties include general clean-up of pathways and fences, maintenance and upkeep of displays, and keeping the holiday cheer alive in San Jose.

"We would not exist without them," Christmas in the Park Managing Director Debbie DeGutis said. "They're not just picking up trash, they're doing something that 700,000 people a year will appreciate when they come to Christmas in the Park."

The program also gives participants an alternative sentence other than jail time and the opportunity for a second chance.

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"That is our main goal and our belief in the individuals that we serve and allowing them to have hope and have that balance," Santa Clara Co. Sheriff's Office Inmate Rehabilitation Manager Dr. Patrick Marshall said. "That ability to self-reflect and know that they're more than what has happened in their life."

"We have to remember that almost everybody that comes into jail is going to get out," Santa Clara Co. Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. "And the three things we want them to have is a job, a purpose and a community."

"The jail systems are always known for taking," Santa Clara Co. Sheriff's Office Lt. Gurpreet Gill said. "It's good to give back to the community."

Thompson completed her time and now has a new job and is getting married.

And this Christmas she can walk through the park knowing the impact it left on her life.

"It makes Christmas in the Park so much more special to me than it already was - and it was already a big part of my Christmas memories and a big part of my core San Jose identity," Thompson said. "Now, it's cemented in that."

Christmas in the Park is now open in San Jose and will remain open nightly through the new year.

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