New England families offer thanks to their Holiday Heroes
Thanks to the generosity of Youth Villages’ supporters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, more than 290 children received gifts during the 2011 holiday season through the Holiday Heroes program. The gallery below contains thank-you notes from some of those children and their families. In addition, please read the moving letters below from three Youth Villages in-home staff members about the impact Holiday Heroes made with families they serve…
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Chelsea Coffman’s Letter
I wanted to seize the opportunity to thank you for your generosity this holiday season. I have difficulty putting my gratitude into words, and I can assure you that however thankful I am, the families I work with are even more thankful.
I nominated three families for the Holiday Heroes program this year and all three families were sponsored. This was very good news, and it was wonderful to see parents’ eyes light up when I told them that there would be some gifts for their children. Nevertheless, I worried that there would not be enough gifts to go around since two of the three families had multiple children. I could sense this same worry in the parents – what kind of Christmas magic would exist for their children this year?
The financial situations of all three families were similar – each struggled to buy food on a consistent basis, much less pay bills, purchase quality hygiene products, or go to a movie once in a while. One family managed a balancing act between buying food for them and buying food for their cats. Another family lived in constant fear of homelessness because the single mom was never sure if she would be able to pay rent and her electricity bill each month. The 13-year-old girl in the third family had just been placed in emergency foster care, and the foster family could not afford gifts for her since they were not able to budget for her presence. None of the families had adequate school clothes for their children or winter gear for their children or themselves.
When I received the bags full of gifts, I was almost speechless. All three families had at least two bags, and these bags were big! After a moment of panic about whether everything would fit in my car, I contacted the families to schedule deliveries. The relief in these parents’ voices was palpable – the program followed through and their children would have something for Christmas morning.
That evening I checked all of the gifts to ensure price tags were removed, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, tears sprang to my eyes. I was not only blown away by the quantity of gifts, but the quality and thought that went into the selection of gifts. One teenager found music very helpful as a coping skill, but could not afford an mp3 player. Her bag had an iPod and an iTunes gift certificate. Another teenager only had one pair of shoes that were well past their prime – her peers made fun of her from the smell. Her bag contained a pair of quality, blinding white tennis shoes. Yet another teenager struggled to complete her personal hygiene appropriately, and her bag was filled with scented lotions, shampoos, body sprays, etc. One of the families had a one-year-old baby, and the gifts for this little one were the perfect colors, the perfect sizes, and full of educational and developmental value. Beyond that, all the families received gift certificates so that they could have the experience of picking something out for themselves.
As amazing as it was to sort through the bags myself, this experience paled compared to actually delivering the gifts. The single mom had tears in her eyes and thanked me for making Christmas possible for her children. Another family asked me multiple times over two days if I could still deliver the gifts at the time we scheduled. The foster family reiterated how anxious they were over how to provide the youth with gifts. When the parents saw the gifts themselves, they also commented on the tastefulness and quality of items. “Oh, she needed this!” “This will look great, she’ll love it!” were comments I heard over and over.
After Christmas had passed and I resumed home visits, I saw the gifts opened and being used. Most of the children excitedly showed me what “Santa” brought them for Christmas, and the teenager with the white tennis shoes said she received a compliment from a peer at school. The children wore unstained, unripped clothing to school, and were not cold waiting at the bus stops anymore. All three families asked me to pass on their thanks to those who made this possible.
I believe that the true spirit of Christmas is about peace, love, generosity. It always held a special kind of magic for me as a child. As the years have passed, daily struggles, depressed economies, and upsetting world news have made the Christmas magic harder to feel some years. Thanks to you, I was able to feel the magic with no trouble this year, and renew my faith in human nature. Thanks to you, three sets of caregivers were not plagued by anxiety and guilt because they could not afford gifts. Thanks to you, six children also got to experience the Christmas magic, some of them for the first time. They truly had a holiday experience they will never forget!
Chelsea Coffman, MSW
Family Intervention Specialist
Youth Villages Intercept Program
Courtney Hosking’s Letter
I’d like to share the story of one young lady, participating in our Transitional Living Program, who had a particularly tough December. Just as the holiday season began, she received a 30-day vacate notice. Not only was she facing eviction with no reliable supports but various agencies that were working with her, in addition to Youth Villages, were expressing doubts that she could make the right decisions necessary to turn her life around. These agencies were making it increasingly difficult for this young adult to access resources and made their disheartening concerns abundantly clear to her. December was a dark month for this young lady. The emotions and pressure she was feeling had the possibility of creating a “downward spiral” that threatened to derail her; a “downward spiral” that she was convinced haunted her throughout her life of ups and inevitable downs. Months earlier, she hadn’t even wanted to create a holiday wish list when I told her about our Holiday Heroes Initiative because she felt she didn’t “deserve it.”
Late one evening, as I was meeting with this young adult for treatment to once again tweak her resume in hopes of landing a job, I gave her the holiday gifts that were purchased and donated on her behalf. This girl, who seemed to forget about the wish list she had “half” created months earlier, was overjoyed at the thoughtful gifts she received. For this young adult facing eviction, a brand new George Foreman grill turned into the item that would be her first kitchen appliance in a new apartment. She saw the clothes as her new outfit for when she started at a community college for the spring semester. The gift card would help her make her new apartment truly feel like home. These gifts gave her more than just hope, they represented a better future where she could live independently and be like any other girl her age.
All in all, the Holiday Heroes Initiative brought back the holiday spirit for this deserving young woman and helped her believe that 2012 would be HER year. The holiday gifts restored her faith in those around her and helped her see that people do care about her and want to support her. These gifts given to her through Youth Villages were the only gifts she received this year, and I was happy to be able to share in the holiday spirit with her!
Transitional Living Specialist
Youth Villages Transitional Living Program
Pam Rivera’s Letter
As a clinical supervisor, the holidays were very emotional for me as I delivered gifts to some of the young adults participating in our transitional living program. I’d like to tell you all about one young lady bravely attempting to stand on her own two feet. Due to physical and emotional abuse, she had recently moved out of her family’s home. With very little support and struggling to live on her own, she worked hard to get herself an apartment, a car and a job. However, she realized that with all the new responsibilities of adulthood and living on a strict budget, holiday gifts and clothing, for her and others, were not going to be an option this year. Not to mention, she would most likely receive nothing from her immediate family.
While struggling to make ends meet, and yearning to have family back in her life, she decided to move out-of-state to be with some extended family that could give her love and support. This was not an easy decision – she was leaving behind everything she knew. Before she moved, Youth Villages was able to provide her with holiday gifts through its annual Holiday Heroes Initiative to take with her on her journey. Upon seeing the gifts, she was so overjoyed that she was brought to tears. She told her transitional living specialist that she finally felt the love and support that she had been longing for all this time.
Transitional Living Clinical Supervisor
Youth Villages Transitional Living Program