Gretchen Kohut dedicates her time around the holidays to making them special for others. Christmas is her favorite time of year, and she now spends her downtime in the winter giving back, performing as her self-invented character, Gretchen the Elf. She is an independent support living coach at St. Joseph’s Center and an activity coordinator for Allied Services. A graduate of Sacred Heart High School in Carbondale, Kohut earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Marywood University. She and her husband David live in Scranton’s East Mountain section with their 9-year-old son, Tyler.
Meet Gretchen Kohut…
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in Carbondale. I have a degree in restaurant and hotel management from Marywood University. I did my degree for many years, and when I was pregnant with my son I realized I wanted more of a part-time job so I could spend more time with the family. The Elf on a Shelf was getting so big, and nobody in the area did anything like this. I started calling day cares and schools to see if they would be interested in a visit by the elf. I created the concept of (how), at the end, the kids whisper in my elf ear what they want for Christmas, and I fly back to the North Pole and report to Santa. The nursing homes and assisted livings heard about it by word of mouth. This is my sixth year, and it’s gotten bigger each year.
Q: What led up to Elf on the Shelf?
A: I managed Cooper’s (Seafood House) for almost 10 years, and I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties there. Right out of college, I started working at Perkins, and managed Perkins and Ruby Tuesday’s. I never thought I would leave Cooper’s. They treated me like family. I loved it so much. I had to make a decision (when I had my son) as to if I could work nights, weekends and holidays, and I didn’t think I could.
Q: Describe the work you do as Gretchen the Elf.
A: I do singing, dancing, story time and talk about experiences from the North Pole with kids. I take snowshoes from the North Pole, and I teach the kids how to dance North Pole-style. It’s stomping around in your snowshoes and jumping over a ski mountain; I created it. Then I report back to Santa and tell him what the children want for Christmas and if they’re good or bad. When I go to nursing homes and assisted livings, they don’t know the concept of Elf on the Shelf since that’s for children. I am just Gretchen the Elf, and I do sing-alongs and spread my Christmas cheer. My son still believes in the elf. I still have fun hiding the elves, and I have to pretend that I fly back to the North Pole a couple times a week, so I make sure that I bring something back from the North Pole each time. I have a special ringtone on my phone from Santa to carry on with my son.
Q: You mentioned Christmas is your favorite time of year. What makes it such a special time for you?
A: My family has always been very big on holidays, including birthdays. Christmas is just one of my favorites, and my birthday is in December. I used to get my Christmas money and go to Mermelstein’s, in Carbondale and decorate my room from top to bottom in Christmas spirit. I never thought I would be an elf, but I just love Christmas so much. After I had my son, it made Christmas even more of a happier time because I got to celebrate with a child. Now he’s picked up my trait of decorating his room for Christmas. I love to give; I love to buy gifts for other people, and I love to go to the nursing homes to sing.
Q: Since you created a character who dresses up and sings, do you have any background or previous interest in performance?
A: When I developed and ran kids’ birthday parties at Cooper’s, I found a calling and a desire to work with children. I love to make them happy. I was trying to think of another way to have fun with children, and that’s when the elf came about.
Q: What is your favorite part about the interactions you have?
A: With the residents, I try to be very cautious, because for some people, Christmas is not a happy time. Some people don’t have family, and some have lost a loved one. I am very cautious that I don’t make them feel worse. Being a people person is part of my job, and I can read people very well. It’s all about a connection I make with them and being able to read them, and if they don’t want to be involved, I don’t continue to push.
Q: What activities do you enjoy doing with your son?
A: Every afternoon, my son and I walk Lake Scranton. He’s been doing that since he can walk. We like nature and go on a lot of nature hikes. I love to be involved with him. I pick him up from school every day. I never miss a day picking him up, so he can tell me about his day. He is also a skier — I am not — but during the winter when I am busier, my husband takes him skiing.
Q: What other hobbies do you have?
A: I don’t have many hobbies, but I love to exercise and be healthy. I love swimming and the summer. I love hiking and biking and bike every morning. Nature and being healthy are my biggest hobbies.
Q: What is something most people don’t know about you?
A: I can’t sit still. Even my husband will say I don’t sit down until seven o’clock at night. I’m so high energy that I have a hard time sitting.
Q: Talk about your work as an individual support living coach.
A: I have four individuals with special needs, and I coach them to live independently in the community. They all live on their own. It’s like having four adult children of your own. I have a compassion for people with special needs. I was looking for a part-time job. I heard about this, and when I started out, I thought it wasn’t my cup of tea. I only planned to do it until my son went to school, but I absolutely fell in love with it. It’s amazing and very rewarding.
Q: Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape who you are today?
A: I didn’t want to go to college. My father pretty much forced me to go to college. I wanted to drop out, and I didn’t think it was for me. I think my father is my big inspiration. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my father persuading me to go to school and get my degree.