Elven magic, Santa Claus reunite soldier with young son at Mon Valley YMCA

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 10:20 a.m.

Cameren Jenko, 5, was dealing with a big problem Monday.

On Sunday at the home he shares with his mom, Ava Nickens, the young boy was caught touching Chippy, his Elf on the Shelf. Anyone who knows elf lore realizes that is extremely bad.

Christmas magic is fragile, and if a scout elf is touched it may lose its magic. So Chippy, like any other elf, relayed the message to the big guy — Santa Claus.

Imagine Cameren's surprise when Santa visited his preschool class at the Mon Valley YMCA carrying none other than Chippy.

Feeling shock and awe, Cameren was comforted when Santa said all had been forgiven, and Chippy had his own little Band-Aid.

But the best was yet to come, because Santa had a special gift for Cameren.

As Santa went in the hallway to fetch the gift, Cameren's classmates wondered aloud what it could be.

Was it a reindeer? Was it a refrigerator? Was it big — or heavy?

Santa returned with a passenger in tow, Cameren's father, U.S. Army Pfc. Joe Jenko.

“Daddy!” Cameren yelled as he sprinted to his dad and jumped into his arms.

Jenko, a California, Pa., native, is stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., and is scheduled for overseas deployment this spring.

Before Monday, the soldier hadn't seen his son in more than six months.

Cameren's grandmother and Joe Jenko's mother, Janet Jenko, along with Nickens, helped set the plan in motion. She told Cameren's teachers, Dolly Ring, Dillon Spencer and Tracy Newman, about the planned reunion.

“We just wanted to make the boy's wish come true,” Spencer said. “Giving this gift is the greatest thing we could do.”

Joe Jenko was all for the scheme.

“Absolutely. Anything for my son,” he said. “I was totally on board for this.”

Jenko, like many soldiers with children, relishes opportunities to spend holidays at home.

“You can't pass it up. With me being deployed in the spring, there's no telling when this opportunity will come again,” Jenko said.

“We do a risky job, and you never know what could happen. For being so young, he kind of understands that. He knows we fight bad guys. I know he's going to love this surprise, and it definitely makes this a lot more special.”

Jenko will get to spend nearly three weeks in southwestern Pennsylvania before returning to Fort Carson.

Reflecting on the moment when he entered the classroom with Santa, the soldier said he will always remember the look on Cameren's face and his son's reaction.

“Priceless, it was great,” Joe Jenko said. “We've tried to surprise him before and he was always real laid back and calm.”

It wasn't just an emotional day for Joe Jenko and Cameren. Nearly everyone had tears in their eyes as Cameren's face lit up.

“It's just an emotional, exciting thing,” Janet Jenko said. “I'm glad we were able to do this.”

After handing out treats to the students and posing for some pictures with the conspirators and Cameren's classmates, Joe Jenko continued to glow.

“I'm just thankful that everyone was here to enjoy this with Cameren,” Joe Jenko said. “Everyone at the Y, Ava, my mom ... they've done so much for Cameren. I can't thank them enough.

“I just can't wait to spend Christmas with him.”

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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