Celebrating the holidays with YouthCare

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Fri, 12/23/2011

Happy holidays from YouthCare. My name is Curtis Knopf, and this is my twelfth holiday season as program manager of Passages, YouthCare’s transitional living program for recently homeless youth ages 18-21.

I love the holiday season at Passages. It’s a difficult time, but I love it. Passages is a home, and the holidays bring that feeling forward.

At Thanksgiving, our residents start talking about food, which we encourage: food is so important. They come up with dishes they’ll make. They make phone calls — to grandma, to anyone — to get that recipe: comfort food, always. There are shopping expeditions. Good smells start coming out of the kitchen. That special holiday warmth starts to set in.

But there’s a lot of disappointment during the holidays, and it’s pretty deep. Some don’t have anyone to call. For the ones who do, there’s that vulnerability of reaching out, of allowing themselves to hope. Maybe a certain family member has changed. Maybe they’ve changed. Maybe things will be different. Every year, over half of our residents go home for the holidays.

Sometimes, it’s just the right moment: I remember one year when a third of our residents ended up moving home safely within months after. Too often, though, it doesn’t work out. There are a lot of broken promises. A lot of young people come back to us shaken.

These are difficult days. There’s grief, and we see residents in tears. Sometimes we cry with them. We see a lot of acting out. We deal with it and help them to deal with it, one by one and together. We also see young people comforting one another — or allowing each other space.

By the time the holiday season comes to an end, everyone’s been through the wringer — but we’ve had our joys and we’ve shared the sorrows. Because they’ve gone through it all together, because we’ve given them a safe place, I think they’re usually stronger for it. And there’s a new year ahead.

The ones in residence are the lucky few. Hundreds more are out there without the safety and without the comfort — or, at least, with only as much comfort as my colleagues and our peers can provide for a young person who's still on the streets.

At the holidays, people from the community will often provide food and gift cards and items from the wish lists YouthCare collects from homeless and recently homeless youth. Believe me, it's all appreciated, and helps brighten these days for our young people.

But I'm a program manager. Even while I'm supporting youth and staff as they make their way through the holiday season, I have to think about all the seasons beyond. I'll still need to maintain a house. Our residents will still need education, employment training, counseling, and care. Youth on the streets will still need the same — plus basic services to help them survive, until they can get to a safe place to call home.

It's your cash donation that will see us and them through. Please, make a gift today.