EAGAN, Minn. – It truly had a family dinner feel.
Laughter and warm conversation flowed across the table where Vikings fullback C.J. Ham, his wife Stephanie and their three kids, Skylar, Stella and Trip dined together with Pastor Daniel McKizzie, his wife Annie, their adopted daughter and three foster children.
Boys & Girls Clubs Branch Director Mark Graves and Senior Director of Corporate and Public Relations Tim Schober also joined the families.
A conference room typically used for meetings at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center had been transformed into a formal dining area. Gold chargers held plates and folded cloth napkins, and stemless wine glasses were filled with sparkling orange-and-cranberry mocktails.
Purple No. 30 jerseys were draped over the backs of the McKizzie's chairs.
"I'm so glad to have you all with us," C.J. told the family.
Every holiday season, the Hams partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs to "adopt" a local family. In addition to dinner at the Vikings practice facility, the special guests also receive a building tour and the opportunity to unwrap multiple gifts purchased by the Hams.
"This is always the highlight of my year. I love seeing families and the kids, the smiles on their faces, the excitement," Graves said. "This year the kids didn't know they were coming, so this is a total surprise for them.
"It just touches my heart that C.J. and Stephanie take the time to do this," Graves added. "And the joy they have in seeing others happy is really moving."
C.J. and Stephanie smiled as they watched Skylar and Stella quickly bond with the foster sisters nearest their respective ages.
Skylar helped teach the oldest daughter how to use her brand-new pink scooter, and the two were planning a future playdate before the evening was over.
"That was really special. The previous years we've done this, our kids were a little bit younger," C.J. said. "So to see how quickly they clicked, watching them opening presents together, that was pretty special to see."
He embraced an emotional Annie as she unwrapped a package of assorted gift cards.
"This is wonderful. Just wonderful," Daniel said, also growing emotional. "And they're just so down to earth. They're warm and welcoming. You wouldn't think he's a celebrity. He and Stephanie are just like everyday people. They make you feel accepted and loved, and they have great hearts."
Annie and Daniel have now fostered more than 100 children, and they've adopted 10. That number will soon grow, as they plan to adopt the trio of siblings that has been in their care for the past 15 months.
"It's just special when you know the history of how hard of a time these kids have had, moving from family from family," Graves said. "Knowing they're now going to be in a stable household is a really good feeling."
Daniel explained he and Annie have both felt drawn to help children in need however they can.
"My mom cared for me and my brothers, and we couldn't make it on our own, so we had to move back in with our grandparents, and that was kind of the start of growing up in an extended family," Daniel said. "When my wife and I first got together, we blended a family. And we went to church and found out there was a need to foster some kids in an emergency situation – their great grandma was caring for them. That opened the door to just be loving and warm [for children who need it]. It's our mission."
Ham is deeply impacted by the McKizzies' selflessness and willingness to provide a loving home for young ones who need it.
"That's gotta be a really loud household," he laughed. "But I also think it's just amazing, the heart that they have to really just take in that many kids – different personalities, different situations and experiences – just speaks volumes to the people they are. How caring they are and how much they want to give back.
"To see how much [the children] love their foster parents, already calling them 'Mom' and 'Dad,' I don't know that you see that in every [situation]," Ham added. "So to see the bond they already have and know they'll be their mom and dad for the rest of their lives – that's so special."