Christmas is a time to celebrate, reminisce on the past year, and get together with family and friends. For the youth staying in the Crisis Program, this can be a difficult time. Many youth are disconnected with their family, and don’t have opportunities to celebrate with Christmas dinners, family outings and gift exchanges. Staff at Covenant House recognize this and we do our best to support the youth throughout the holidays.
In the Crisis Program, we’ve had the common space decorated with Christmas lights, decorations and a Christmas tree for the month of December. Each year, a small group of staff plan holiday activities for the youth to participate in (such as ice skating, gingerbread house making, going to the movies, attending Christmas light events, etc.). These are always a hit with the youth - it gives them something to look forward to, and these events are normally things the youth won’t attend on their own.
Thanks to amazing volunteers and our donations team we have Christmas backpacks put together for the youth; a way to show the youth they are cared for over the holidays. This year, we also decided to put together Christmas stockings to have the youth open on Christmas morning. The overnight staff filled stockings with candies, wrote the youth’s names on all of them and hung them around the common area, ready for the youth to open on Christmas morning.
When I came into work Christmas morning there were a few youth sitting in the common area watching TV. I walked out and wished them all Merry Christmas. I asked them why they were all awake so early - one of the youth replied “it’s Christmas…how can I sleep in?” He then gestured towards the stockings, and said he really appreciated that staff took the time to put them together for all the youth. Over the course of the next two hours, the youth had all woken up and started opening their stockings. We then told them we had another present for all of them - we handed each of them a Christmas backpack. The youth were shocked - for many, receiving a stocking was enough of a surprise. It was a real joy watching the youth opening up their backpacks, talking about the presents inside, and showing each other their goodies. We spent the afternoon relaxing, watching Christmas classics on TV, and eating (of course!). Throughout the course of the afternoon we had a few youth approach us and thank us for working on Christmas. One youth asked us why we work on Christmas - we replied, we do it because we enjoy our jobs and the chance to celebrate the holidays with everyone.
Covenant House always encourages youth to spend time with family, if it’s a safe and supportive environment for them to be in. As a result, when it came time for Christmas dinner, we were left with only about 15 youth (the remaining youth were out at various family Christmas dinner events). When the youth walked in to the dining room, I’m sure many were expecting to see the usual dining room set up. However, the kitchen staff had something else in mind - they pushed all the tables together, put out decorative table clothes and napkins, and placed candies, eggnog and oranges on all the tables. They also had a massive Christmas dinner planned, complete with all the usual toppings. As the youth grabbed their dinner and sat down, the energy at the table was different from usual. Some youth had sad looks on their faces, others seemed unsure of the new set up. After a few minutes, once everyone started eating and chatting, the mood picked up. Youth who don’t normally sit together were talking and laughing, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the festivities.
Christmas at Covenant House is something special. Staff, volunteers and donors put in extra work and time to make the holiday season memorable for the youth who are staying with us. Being away from family and friends over the holidays can be difficult. As staff we do our best to give the youth the best experience we can, whether it’s through small tokens of kindness, a supportive presence or good food!