The joys of the Christmas season for Ryan and Nikki Skopek, who moved to Oakhurst in September, were recently almost ruined by a Grinch. Within two hours of putting up Christmas decorations at their house in the Broadview Terrace subdivision late last month, someone stole them, leaving the family in a state of shock.
During Ryan’s 11 years in the U.S. Army as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, the married couple, with their two children, routinely moved across the country. In the last year alone, Nikki said, they moved five times before Ryan was honorably discharged and took on his new job as a pilot for “Air George,” the medical helicopter at Valley Children’s Hospital.
That had the family excited to start their life in Oakhurst, Nikki said, and give their children a truly memorable Christmas. Especially since it’d be the first one ever, at home, for their 5-year-old daughter Kylie and 1-year-old son Luke.
“It was on and off, with traveling and everything, and we hadn’t had a chance to be at home and enjoy Christmas,” Nikki said. “It’s the sacrifices you make, you have to celebrate things a little different ... but we had decided it’s Ryan’s first year out of the army, so we really wanted to celebrate.”
On Nov. 28, the family put up their holiday display, including, Nikki said, “one of those big elaborate stargazing lights that light up your whole house.”
Satisfied with the decorations, the family went to Raley’s for sandwiches, but by the time they returned less than two hours later, an unknown thief had made off with all their lights.
“Ryan said ‘let me get out first,’ because he didn’t want Kylie to see,” Nikki said. “We hoped maybe it was an electrical shortage or something, but he came back to me and said ‘they’re gone.’ She started bawling, and asked us ‘why would somebody steal them? Why would somebody do this?’
“I was upset too,” Nikki continued. “Ryan had just got out of the army, and this was a moment we were looking forward to. We were just disappointed.”
But thanks to Mountain Area residents and one Clovis store, they’ll be able to enjoy the Christmas season at home for the first time in seven years, complete with festive decorations.
In stepped Stephen Granatelli, a fellow army veteran and assistant manager at a Home Depot in Clovis, who saw Nikki’s post about the Grinch’s actions on social media and immediately got to work.
“I’m a veteran, and I’m very proud of that,” Granatelli said. “I’m very proud of all my brothers and sisters out there. I know how hard we’ve all worked and the sacrifice we’ve put in as military families. So when something like this happens, and it’s to a military family, it hits me hard. And I’m not going to let it end that way.”
Granatelli organized a special visit from Santa Claus for the Skopeks’ children, and when the family visited the store a single day after the Christmas theft, they were amazed to find hundreds of dollars in decorations and toys waiting for them as well.
“I reached out both to the family and my boss above me, who said ‘do absolutely whatever it takes to take care of them,’” Granatelli said. “That’s our mentality. We wanted to give them a good memory, they deserve one with all they’ve gone through.”
Alongside that selfless act of Christmas spirit, which she said her family would never forget, Nikki added people from the Mountain Area also answered the call.
“People were messaging us, telling us they wanted to bring lights over, they wanted to help us however they could, it was amazing,” Nikki said. “I just thought wow, we’re blessed by this and to be a part of this community.”
Now the Skopeks are getting their home ready to celebrate Christmas with a full light display, including some decorations set up by Oakhurst residents who came to help.
“I’m glad to know we have people like this in the world,” Nikki said. “When we moved here, we literally knew absolutely nobody. And when you come from a military background, that security blanket is gone as well. So to know we have neighbors like this, and we have a small community that is willing to do so much, even for people they don’t know, means so much.”
And when asked how all the donations and that visit from Santa made her feel, Kylie had a simple answer.
“It made me feel like I have friends,” Kylie said.