Heartwarming Holiday Memories

A Social Worker’s Perspective
Nicole Zuniga, FCNI Social Worker
December, 19, 2017 -

Sponsor a Child for the Holidays is a time each year when our community comes together to make holiday dreams come true for the youth and families we serve. It’s a fun and magical time, and as a Social Worker at the Family Care Network for the past few years, I have many special memories of our families enjoying this tradition during the holidays.

One of my favorite memories was when I was working with a family of three in our Wraparound Program--a mom with a young son and daughter. The kids were energetic and rambunctious, and they loved their mother so much. Prior to Wraparound, their mom had struggled with substance abuse issues, but she had come a long way in care, facing and overcoming her hurdles to become a strong and healthy mother for her children. That year, she was struggling to find a job and was having a really hard time financially. The holidays came around and the two kids started writing their letters to Santa, so excited to see what gifts they were going to get. While their mom was not in a place financially where she could to provide the gifts and toys her children wanted, our community stepped up to support her in remarkable ways.

Thanks to Sponsor a Child donors, we helped the mom provide the gifts for her kids that they had requested from Santa. With our Wraparound families, we coordinate delivering the gifts so that the kids believe that the gifts are from their parents or from Santa. That year, we went the extra mile to keep the presents a secret from the kids to preserve the magic. The family lived on the first floor of an apartment building, so the team’s Family Partner and I snuck the gifts into the mom’s bedroom window where she kept them hidden in her room until Christmas Day. It was so hard not to laugh at how silly the situation was as we piled the gifts in through the window together, but we succeeded in creating a magical Christmas day with a house full of gifts for the family delivered straight from Santa! The two kids woke up on Christmas morning to find that they had received exactly what they wanted: coloring sets, play kitchen toys, toy trucks and action figures, and new pajamas! We also gave the mom a grocery gift card so that she could shop for food they loved the most during the holidays.

Another year, I was working with a single mom with four children--younger twins and two older kids. They had a Friday night “Movie night” tradition where they would take all their pillows and blankets into the living room, piling everything on the floor to watch movies together. They loved watching movies, but were never able to go out to the theater to see movies because it was too expensive for the mom to take them all. That year, community members participating in Sponsor a Child provided a “movie night” package for the whole family, complete with movie tickets, candy, popcorn and other goodies to take to the theater so they could have a real movie night out for the first time! It was such a special experience for the family, and made their holidays so memorable. I’ll never forget their thankfulness for such a thoughtful gift.

I have another fond memory of working with a teen boy who couldn’t live with his own parents, but instead lived with his aunt and uncle. The aunt and uncle had a large and mixed family, having taken in kids from their extended family. The family didn’t want “Christmas presents” per say; instead they wanted to engage in fun family activities and “self-care” during the holidays. Sponsor a Child donors gave them gift certificates to go out to eat together, spa gift certificates for the aunt, and other gift cards that enabled the large family to go out and do fun things together. The family was so appreciative of the gift cards that were in-line with their values, enabling them to celebrate together in ways that were more experience-based and fun for the whole family.

Another family I remember who had mostly older kids, really enjoyed making huge family dinners together. We provided them with grocery and gas gift cards so that the older kids could go out on their own, shop for supplies, and make extra-special meals for the entire extended family. The biggest gift that the family wanted for the holidays was just to be together, so the gift cards provided through Sponsor a Child enabled them to do just this while sharing an amazing meal together.

Every family is so different and so great. Working with so many wonderful families over the years, I’ve learned to embrace the holidays with all of their highs and lows. The holidays can be a hard time for many. During this time, many of those we work with are reminded of things they have lost, family members they are not with, or things that used to be and are no longer. Working with FCNI during this season, there are so many things we do to support our families through what can be a stressful and emotional season, in creative and fun ways.

As I remember the holidays spent with our youth and families, I’m most thankful for the generosity of our community. It’s amazing that every year our community pours out so much love and care into their donations to meet the needs of those we serve. Thank you, Central Coast, for your generous and giving spirit during the holidays!