Opinion

Ways to Let Detained Youth Know They’re Not Forgotten This Holiday Season

gauthier-PhotoAs the holidays approach, we often forget there are so many youth who are detained, in placement or simply away from their families. There were 50,821 youth in some type of facility in 2014, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Prevention reported.

Even though some young people can’t be home during the holiday season, they should never feel alone. Many youth-serving agencies provide a celebration and recognition of the holidays in December, due to compassion for all youth and their needs. This year, explore creative holiday ideas to let young people who can’t be at home know they are loved and have not been forgotten. You don’t have to be an employee or a facility that services youth to make a difference.

Annually, Lead4Life, Inc. is only one of many organizations that tries to do just that: Among others, our agency goes into the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Rockville, Maryland, to provide a holiday party for detained youth. We have a wonderful church that sponsors us, as well as a solid group of volunteers. We collect socks, ChapStick, hats, gloves, playing cards, hygiene products and crossword puzzles as gifts. Each young person gets an individualized card showing there is a large community of people who really care about them and wish them peace. We have a celebration with food, music, arts and crafts. Each youth is presented with their gifts at the end of the evening.

Lead4Life staff and volunteers often see youth in the community after the event. They can’t remember our names, what organization we are from or everything they received in their bag, but they do remember we chose to let them know we care. Our executive director receives calls from volunteers every year, excited because they were out doing something and a young person approached them and said, “You came to the detention facility to give us gifts.”

This may seem like a simple response, but to our volunteers and staff it’s confirmation they helped create a positive memory for a young person and made a difference in someone’s life. If they were home, many of these same young people may not have had a chance to celebrate the holidays or create an enriching memory, due to many reasons that impact the families we serve.

How can you and your organization make a difference? Contact a local detention center or placement and request to sponsor an evening of appreciation during the holidays. Get creative with your own vibe! Some ideas include:

  • Take up a collection (You must receive approval of items that can be purchased from the superintendent)
  • Have your staff write personalized empowering messages in a card to specific youth participants
  • Volunteer at a center and provide arts-and-crafts activities
  • Ask staff to come up with their own idea for an event to recognize the youth
  • Create an evening of expression: Youth can present poetry, music and other creative ways they express themselves
  • Have a game night with snacks and other goodies.

Don’t allow this holiday season to come and go without letting all youth know, regardless of their situation and circumstances, we are a community that cares and loves them, and they aren’t forgotten during this time of year.

Jennifer Gauthier is CEO of Lead4Life, Inc., an emerging nonprofit serving youth and adults in the criminal justice system in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. She brings both life experience and professional training to her work of empowering young people and young adults in the criminal justice system.

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