Annual party makes holidays special for some extraordinary kids
For most, the holidays are a magical time, filled with food, family and presents.
But for families whose finances are already stretched to the limit just to cover food and living expenses, the holiday season can bring only pressure. That can be especially true in homes where older relatives have taken on the responsibility of raising young children.
Joy Woods-Jones knows the difficulty these families face. That’s why, for the past several years, she has hosted a holiday party for children in Temple Intergenerational Center’s Family Friends and Grandma’s Kid’s programs.
“Around the holidays, it is a little hard financially to do what you like to do for your children,” she said.
Both programs provide support for families with children being raised by someone other than their biological parents. Family Friends offers respite by connecting older adult volunteers with children and families feeling overwhelmed and isolated. Grandma’s Kids is an after-school program that provides academic and social-emotional support for children in foster homes or under the care of a grandparent or relative.
This year, for the first time, participants in both support programs joined together at a mid-December holiday party in Temple’s Howard Gittis Student Center.
Woods-Jones, program director of the Family Support Unit at the Intergenerational Center, champions an annual collection of gifts from Temple staff and the greater community. She works tirelessly to ensure that each child gets at least three toys.
“(These) may be the only gifts they get for the season,” she said.
Many families look forward to the holiday party each year. Genetta Yates, who cares for her youngest daughter’s two children, Zaria, who is 10 years old, and her nine-year-old brother Isaiah, has been involved with Family Friends program since taking them in six years ago.
“I was getting ready to start my own business,” she said. “It seemed that everything was being laid out for me and for my life to take off.”
Volunteers in the program have provided invaluable support to help keep things on track, said Yates.
“If I needed a break on the weekends, they would take the children out for the day,” she said. “They did little things to help support me through the experience.”
Since she is on disability leave, Yates said her finances are stretched too thin to be able to afford many presents for the kids.
“If it wasn’t for (the holiday party), I would be struggling to get presents,” she said. “The income that I receive is to pay the bills and to buy food.”
Woods-Jones understands how important the holiday party is to families like the Yates, and she said she hopes that the Intergenerational Center can help them have a memorable holiday.
“The children that we serve are very special to us,” she said. “We do a lot for them. I just really pray that what we’re doing is special to them and that they remember it.”
More than anything, she hopes members of the community know how important their gifts are.
“You don’t realize how much the kids appreciate it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if the toy came from Macy’s or the Dollar Store. They appreciate it. I know they’re going to be so excited.”
— Laura Kuserk