For many people, the holidays are a time to celebrate with family, reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what the new year will bring.
But for some, the holidays are a culmination of hard times, and in some cases, people have never experienced the joy the season can bring.
This year, the staff at the HALO house have gone out of their way to help instill holiday traditions in the young women who stay with them. Though they focused on Christmas celebrations, the hope is new traditions are being implanted in these young women that they can then share with their families in the future.
HALO is an 18-month program that provides free housing for pregnant, parenting and non-parenting youth ages 16-21 who are in homeless or high-risk situations. They can stay a maximum of 24 months. HALO defines homeless youth as minors who are not involved in the foster care system and cannot live with their biological parents due to situations such as: parents being incarcerated, addicts, physically or emotionally abusive, who take no physical or financial responsibility for their children, or parenting teens who are not welcome in their parents' home due to financial burdens or religious beliefs.
HALO Director Suzanne Wilson said the staff has been celebrated the 12 days of Christmas this year, trying to do special things each day.
"Holidays are created," Wilson said. "It just doesn't happen automatically. A lot of these girls have talked about how these were not their favorite times due to problems with their families or financial stress."
Wilson said they weren't sure what the young women would want.
"One girl said she hadn't had a Christmas in so long she couldn't remember what it was like," Wilson said. "I was shocked, but it was a common theme we ran into. They said they wouldn't know what to ask for."
Wilson, a former principal in the Jefferson City Public Schools, said she and the staff were determined to help create positive memories for these women.
They contacted various businesses and organizations about donating items, and Wilson said they were wonderfully surprised at how quickly people stepped up to donate for each of the 12 days.
"I think the one I'm most proud of is when we got one sponsor to give the girls a new suitcase," she said. "Most of the girls come here having to bring their belongings in trash bags or boxes. One of the girls, who is pregnant and already has two other toddlers, cried when she got the suitcase because she said she could pack her clothes in the suitcase when she went to the hospital to deliver her baby. She wouldn't feel embarrassed by having to bring her things in a bag. It was really touching."
The goal of the HALO housing program is to help youth get out of "crisis mode," set long-term goals for themselves, and learn how to live independently. Youth who are accepted into the program are required to finish high school with a diploma (if they have not already done so) and seek and obtain part-time employment while they are in school. Youth who have graduated from high school must either obtain full-time employment or start college classes. They are also required to participate in life-skills workshops, which are aimed at teaching them how to live independently. Parenting youth are required to take weekly parenting classes.
"It's exciting for me and the staff, because you feel you're making a difference," Wilson said. "Memories like these they can take with them and create their own traditions with their families. We have alumni come back all the time and talk about how grateful they are for going trough the program."
People wishing to volunteer with HALO Jefferson City should call 573-418-9912 to learn what opportunities are available. They also can find volunteer opportunities at haloresources.org/halo-home-jefferson-city.