Helping Children Find Holiday Cheer During a Recession
It's not all about gift giving
Casper Lassiter, campus director of the Children’s Aid Society at the Dunlevy Milbank Center, is inspired every day by the positivity of the children and families he works with. Raised in less fortunate circumstances, similar to the families he now facilitates, Lassiter says the Children’s Aid Society saved his life. It taught him appreciation, the importance of giving back, and mostly, how to find joy in the little things in life. It's those small things, like conversation and companionship, that place smiles on people’s faces.
“It makes me feel good because the families are so appreciative, even when it’s something small," says Lassiter who joined the Children's Aid Society when he was just nine years old. "With the kids, it’s our volunteers just holding their hands and having interaction with them that leave a positive experience.”
With the holiday season among us, the Children's Aid Society organizes holiday parties, food drives and gifts for those down on their luck. They understand the importance of making someone feel appreciated during a time of giving, even when people may not have anything to give this season.
“We definitely try to keep a pretty positive and family-orientated atmosphere year round,” says executive director of the Hale House Center Annie Murphy. “I think how that translates into the holiday season is that we try to keep things festive. It’s important for families to keep their spirit and morale up, for them to feel like they have the means to provide something nice to their family over the holiday. That can be tough when you’re talking about a homeless family with not a lot of resources.”
Overall, 2011 has been a rough year for American families. Many households have experienced a loss of income, and have had to budget like never before. Even though unemployment rates dropped below 9% in November (the lowest in two years) due to jobs created for the holiday season, Americans remain uncertain of the job market and economy, while reporting they will spend less on gifts this year because of their current financial situations.
During these down times, organizers, who work with families going through traumatic times year round say it’s much more about family and togetherness than about monetary giving.
“It may sound cliché, but I think the important thing is not to lose what the true meaning of Christmas is really about,” says Brian Bob, development manager at Covenant House. “It’s not about all the gifts. We enjoy giving and receiving gifts, but we should understand it’s the quiet things you give, like your time.”
It is also important to remember the holidays are a time for “togetherness,” says Bob, who coordinates events at the shelter that allow fellowship among the families and volunteers.
“The events are important because they foster this idea of togetherness and that you’re not alone in the situation. When you have outside people coming in, it suggests that people on the outside are thinking of you and that you are not forgotten,” he says.
“It also creates dialogue among people to understand that this time will past. Even if the next Christmas is not perfect, things will get better. Though you are living in this moment, the plan is for you to move beyond this point.”
Murphy says she encourages her staff and members to make the most of the holiday season by not thinking it is all about gift giving.
“Whatever you can do, if you try to do it genuinely and passionately, and the best you can, that really shows. We might not be able to give all children iPads, but if we can work with them to be excited about the holidays and do that really well, then they do get excited about it. And the moms get excited about providing something for the holidays.”
She adds, “Don’t minimize the value of food and decorations. We always make sure to provide those two things."