With February around the corner, it’s hard to believe that just over a month ago, we were in the midst of the holiday season. Looking back on that time now, I remember much of it as a blur of shopping for presents, decorating the house, and baking what seemed like endless trays of cookies. But in between the frantic preparations and party hopping, there were also some special experiences that made this past holiday season a memorable one. Volunteering at the Holiday for Hope event with my teammate, Aaron, and his wife, Kim, is one of those memories.
We first learned about the Holiday for Hope event when one of our fellow Social Mission Committee members, Carolina, suggested we attend. She showed us the website of the organization that sponsors the event, Dreams for Kids, and their mission touched our hearts. Dreams for Kids aims to support homeless and at-risk youth through service, leadership and social activities. The Holiday for Hope event started several years ago as a way to bring Christmas to children who had never experienced it before. Today, it is the largest holiday event of its kind and serves over 1500 children in Illinois.
On the day of the event, Aaron, Kim and I arrived at the venue, which was a gigantic field house located on the north side of Chicago. Fellow volunteers warmly greeted us, assigned us to our stations, and handed us Santa hats to wear. When we entered the space where the day’s activities would be held, the buzzing energy was palpable. Dozens of people donning red Santa hats dashed to and fro carrying boxes and setting up tables. Ready to pitch in, Aaron and Kim headed toward the sports station, while I reported to the crafts area.
A few minutes before the event was scheduled to kick off, the founder of Dreams for Kids, Tom Tuohy, gathered the crowd of volunteers together. Tom emanated joy and humility as he thanked us for being there and prepared us for the day ahead. Tom stated that many of the children we would meet had been looking forward to this day all year. He encouraged us to engage with them, ask them questions, and give them our full presence. Just as Tom wrapped up his speech, the first families stepped into the field house, and the event swung into full gear.
Over the next few hours, I worked at the crafts station helping one child after the next create a small beaded ornament. With Tom’s instructions in mind, I conversed with each child. Some were a little shy at first, but many opened up and shared with me details about their day, their family, and their life.
In the few moments of downtime, I looked around and was moved by what I saw. As the deejay played one holiday hit after the next, carefree children danced and sang along. Parents tenderly assisted their little ones in creating festive crafts. Families gathered together to enjoy conversation and laughter over a hot meal. Crowds whooped and cheered as the Jesse White Tumblers put on an entertaining show. Toward the end of the day, families eagerly lined up to receive from Santa a bag full of presents, all of which had been purchased with donations. Tom was right – it was clear that this day brought people together in celebration and gave hope to all who attended.
Throughout the day, a statement that I had read on the Dreams for Kids website kept popping into my head: No matter how little we may have, all of us have something to give. In observing the interactions around me, this was blatantly clear. At the crafts station, many children helped their younger siblings and, after completing the craft, many excited children ran to their parents to give them the finished product. As one young girl strung the last bead on her ornament, I asked her if she was going to hang it on her Christmas tree. “No,” she replied, “I want to give this to my teacher at school.”
It is during the holiday season that we are repeatedly reminded of the importance of giving to others. But this message is one that we should honor all year long. What I witnessed at the Holiday for Hope event proved to me that giving to others does not require an abundance of time or money – it only requires love.
As the cold of winter carries on, I challenge us to bring warmth to one another by giving from a place of compassionate reverence – especially on the days when we feel most depleted. By the laws of karma, when we send loving energy out into the world, it is bound to return to us.
Learn more about volunteering with Dreams for Kids.
Read more about EHS’ Social Mission.