It happens this time every year. The kids are back in school, the morning air turns crisp, the store shelves begin to morph, and some are already having brief thoughts of everything pumpkin, apple cinnamon spice, turkey and tinsel. Some have those thoughts because of fond holiday memories made in years past and the anticipation of holiday joy to come.
For some children in Tennessee, however, brief thoughts of the holidays bring nothing but dread and anxiety. For these children, the holidays are but a reminder that they do not have a safe or healthy home. For some it’s a reminder that they have no place at all to call home.
In my career I have heard numerous stories of pain and sadness. Here are some related to the holidays specifically.
- A 15 year-old boy, from one of the roughest streets in Memphis, standing before a Juvenile Court Judge a few days before Christmas begging, pleading, and sobbing to be placed, yet again, in juvenile detention (jail for kids alongside the roughest of sorts) so that he would not have to return home. Anything was better than going home. He was a repeat violator of his probation simply to avoid going home.
- A 4 year-old girl, staying at a homeless shelter with her mother, casually passed a small, well-lit Christmas tree, and her eyes widened with pure astonishment. She began asking basic questions about the tree and the few wrapped boxes underneath. It became clear that she had never been exposed to anything holiday related because of the hold drug abuse had on her family. The family had recently sold a hand-me-down bicycle, likely given to the family as a Christmas gift, for drug money.
- A 16 year-old girl, who for most of her childhood chronically bounced between foster and group homes before aging out of foster care with no place to call home, shared with the saddest of faces that the holidays were nothing special in her group home. Maybe, she recalled, there had been a special dinner along with a couple of presents from strangers, but mainly she remembered the usual fist fights in the hallways and keeping to herself in her room.
While these and many similar stories are truly heartbreaking, there are also many stories of success and joy!
No matter our personal beliefs or holiday practices, the holiday season is truly “right around the corner”. The holidays always sneak up on us. With some forethought and planning this year, I challenge us to assess how we might engage more deeply with the hurting around us and be a part of a success story. We don’t have to look far to find someone who could use a smile, a kind word, or even long lasting friendship, leadership, guidance – even a forever home.
There are kids in TN who long to engage deeply. There are kids who long for their thoughts of the holidays to be joyful and filled with anticipation of memories to be made. What can you do? If you need a place to start, please call us at Harmony Family Center. We have numerous possible ways you can engage the world more deeply and bring joy to hurting kids this holiday season. My experience has been that engagement in one’s life is by far one of the best gifts to be given at the holidays.