Guest blogger Janey Greenstein volunteers with United Way on the Emerging Leaders Marketing Committee. Janey is a marketing analyst at Alvarez & Marsal, a professional services firm, where she supports the company’s work with foundations and nonprofits.
I’ll admit it. When I see winter holiday decorations pop up this time of year, it tends to bring out my inner Grinch. Why ruin a good thing by starting so early?
That was until I met Morgan and the Giving Tree team at Friends of Youth during my Second Saturday volunteer project. When you’ve got over 6,000 kids to shop for, the holiday preparations kick off in July – and there’s not a moment to lose.
Friends of Youth delivers a broad range of services to youth and their families including an overnight shelter, counseling and transitional housing programs. Each year, they partner with local companies to ensure the kids under their care receive a gift during the holiday season. “Giving Trees” are decorated with tags describing each child’s holiday wish and placed throughout Snohomish and King County.
A few weeks ago, I teamed up with 11 other Emerging Leaders to write and sort hundreds of gift tags. Our group was tasked with organizing the tags so that each Giving Tree featured requests from the organization’s 25 different programs – one of the many strategies Friends of Youth employs to ensure no child is left without a gift.
Sorting the gift tags offered a brief glimpse into what it might be like to experience homelessness. Many kids requested essentials like blankets, hygiene items and warm jackets. Others wished for toys, games or beauty products. These types of requests were an equally powerful reminder that homeless youth are in many respects, no different from any other kids their age.
Here were some of my favorite gift requests:
- Ellie, age 16, asked for earrings “to make her feel glamorous.”
- Jordan, age 21, asked for a sweatshirt from the University of Washington “to find inspiration to attend the UW one day.”
- Lisa, age 24 asked for educational games so that her young daughter “wouldn’t fall behind.”
Keep your eye out for Giving Trees at the Microsoft campus, University Village and Redmond Town Center. Although it will be another month or two before I don my holiday sweater, I’ll definitely be getting a head start on my holiday shopping for Friends of Youth this year.
Emerging Leaders is a group for people in their 20s or 30s who are interested in getting involved with their community through United Way. Sign up to receive monthly invitations to upcoming events and meet other like-minded young professionals while you’re at it!