Before I moved into my current position at Shady Side Academy, I worked for Allegheny County for nine years in the Department of Human Services. My main responsibilities were their website and social media, but part of what I really liked about that job was working on hands-on projects. One of the project I loved was the Holiday Project, which provides gifts for children who receive services from Children, Youth and Families.
When people typically think of these kids they say “Oh, foster kids,’ but that’s not really accurate. Are there foster kids? Of course. But in Allegheny County, most of the kids served by CYF are in homes with their parents or family (called kinship care) or live in group homes. And the reality is, these are the kids that need the most help, but are the most overlooked. The two groups of kids who are the most under served through the Holiday Project are babies (under 2) and teenagers. When people think Christmas, they love to think about those adorable school-age years – a seven year-old with a new bike or a five year-old with a new baby doll. And those kids most certainly should receive gifts, but the kids outside of those magical years need gifts too.
Let’s take a moment to think about the babies. Now, of course, babies aren’t going to know that it’s Christmas. If you’re like me, you looked forward to your first child’s first Christmas and went all out, only to find yourself on Christmas morning opening the presents you wrapped while your little one was trying to pull over the Christmas tree. But remember being able to go all out? These little ones often have parents who just want the best for their kids, and a set of PJs and a board book under the tree are magical to them. To be able to give their kids something means a lot to the parents.
Now let’s take a trip to the other end, the teenagers. I heard many times that they’re too “old” to need Christmas gifts. That they understand that there is no Santa. These kids most certainly understand, in ways we can’t even imagine, that there is no Santa. Which is all the more reason why they need to know that someone, somewhere, cares enough about them to make sure they have a gift to open on Christmas morning. You remember what it was like to be a teenager. Now imagine that time in your life living without parents, living in a group home. Sound like fun? That’s because it isn’t. Will giving them a gift make their lives completely different? No, of course not. But it will make a difference. Giving children of all ages normal experiences is a gift in itself.
I am asking you, my dear readers, when you’re shopping for your holiday gifts, to pick up a little something for a 0-2 year-old or a teenager. The Holiday Project has a list of gift suggestions on its web page. I can personally tell you that teenagers love gift cards and Steelers items. It doesn’t have to be big, just something to make their day brighter. There are a number of drop-off locations around the Pittsburgh area. Items are needed by December 5 and should be unwrapped (gift wrap is also accepted).
Let’s go out there and make some kids happy! You with me?