Thanks to the kindness and determination of one woman, Christmas came early at Happy Valley Elementary School in Johnson City, Tn. Mariah Walker moved to Tennessee three months ago and jumped headfirst into helping the community. Walker, who moved from California, had asked her Tik Tok followers last year to help sponsor foster kids for Christmas. “We came from California and last year, we helped some kids in foster care, like 10 of them at a local foster agency,” said Walker. “When I came here, I knew I wanted to do the same thing.”
She was already working with The Rise Up program when a chance conversation with their Amazon driver, Donnie, led her to Happy Valley Elementary. Walker’s husband told Donnie they were looking for more children to sponsor. Donnie suggested there was some need at Happy Valley Elementary, where his wife Becky works as a secretary. She once again turned to her 144,000 Tik Tok followers for help and raised $20,000 for Christmas gifts.
“I put videos out on TikTok and all my followers just bought gifts for all the kids or donated money,” said Walker. “They donated like $20,000.” Local businesses also pitched in. Walker said she got 400 gift cards from Owl’s Nest, and they donated another 50 for free and that Open Doors gave her a discount on the gift card. Walker raised enough not only to give each Happy Valley Elementary schooler a toy, book or coloring book, and candy. She also gave each and every Happy Valley Middle and High schooler a gift card. Almost 700 gift cards in total. Walker incorporated the help of a local youth group to wrap the hundreds of presents before the big day.
The gifts weren’t Walker’s only gift to the school. According to Greer, Walker and her followers bought $2,000 in books for the Happy Valley Elementary School library during their book fair earlier this fall. Happy Valley Elementary School Principal Mandy Greer said they managed to keep this a secret from the students. Greer said they are thankful for not only the gifts, but the outpouring of love from Walker, her followers, and the local community.
Before Walker “went viral,” last year she had around 8,000 followers, accrued through content meant to uplift and connect those in relatable situations. Walker said she enjoys watching and creating content related to parenting because it provides opportunities for human connection as well as escape from chaotic reality. Walker said when she asked for help sponsoring foster kids last year she realized the community building potential of Tik Tok.