“Christmas used to mean presents, cookies, and Santa Claus,” says 11-year-old Kira. “But now I know it's not about toys. It's about the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God and He's my savior. And I know He loves me no matter what.”
Kira is just one of nearly 80 children who live with their moms at Union Rescue Mission's Hope Gardens Family Center, a 77-acre sanctuary that offers transitional housing to families experiencing homelessness like Kira's.
“She's a good kid,” says Kira's mother, Tifani. “She's a firecracker, with a bit of a temper, but she says what she wants to say and she means it. I'm proud of her. She graduated last spring from 5th grade, and she was awarded the school's Presidential Certificate for her good behavior and academic achievement.”
Kira came to Hope Gardens, along with her mother and two sisters, on Easter Sunday, 2012, after they escaped a dangerous situation where they were living.
Unfortunately, Tifani was unemployed and had no place else to take her children, until she learned about Hope Gardens.
“I like Hope Gardens,” Kira says. “The people here take us to the park and the swimming pool. Sometimes we have barbecues. I've even seen three families of deer since we've been here!”
While summers are Kira's favorite season, she also loves Christmas. “Last Christmas was really fun here,” she recalls. “We had a party and we got to make cookies and gingerbread houses, and we even got to sing karaoke! My favorite Christmas song is ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus.’”
Then she starts singing . . . “Happy birthday, Jesus, it's that time of year. All the lights on the trees say Christmas time is near. Another year's behind us, you helped us make it through. So, happy birthday, Jesus, this song is just for you.”
“Over the years, I've pretty much gotten everything I wanted for Christmas, she says. “But I don't want any presents this year. Ho
pe Gardens is helping my mom start her own business so we can move into a new house. That's my Christmas wish.”
No Better Christmas Present
All my life, I've loved singing Joy to the World
at Christmas. How can anyone sing
that carol and not feel happy? It always reminds me that God and my kids are my true joy.
But my life hasn't always been filled with joy. I got married when I was 21 and we had three beautiful daughters, including Kira, whose story is in this newsletter. But despite our kids, we spent 13 rocky years fighting and quarreling until I couldn't take it anymore.
After we divorced, the girls and I struggled financially. I finally got a good job working as a bus driver. But then in the span of a couple years, my mother and father died, then two of my uncles and a nephew passed away, and I fell into a depression. I found it hard to keep working.
Life was so difficult for me — but it was especially hard at Christmas. Instead of feeling joy, I just cried.
Then we started having problems with our apartment manager, who was breaking into our home and was making my daughters feel afraid. The police wouldn't do anything about the manager, so I had to leave with my kids. But I didn't have the money to move into another apartment, and we had no place else to go.
Thankfully, when I called emergency services, they referred us to Union Rescue Mission and their Hope Gardens Family Center.
We've been here since April 2012. They say every gray cloud has a silver lining, and Hope Gardens has been that for me. Not only have they provided me and my kids with meals and shelter, they've given me the chance to go back to school. And today I'm in the process of starting my own private bus business.
This Christmas, Joy to the World
means something special again. I may be down, but I'm not out. I have my kids, we're safe, and we have a future. I may not always feel it, but joy is a real possibility again. I know it. I feel it. And there's no better Christmas present than that.
It's hard to imagine what happens to a child when they experience homelessness. Devastated and embarrassed, they often emotionally withdraw. And some kids will never be able to let go of that pain.
No matter what time of year, homelessness is painful for children. But Christmas is especially difficult. They have no home, no tree, and no gifts. There's no excitement or anticipation of Santa Claus coming down the chimney. It's heartbreaking to witness that kind of sadness in kids at Christmas.
That's why we work so hard to bring the kids at Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens a little joy and hope this time of year. Our Christmas Store ensures parents have gifts for their kids. We throw Christmas parties, we let the kids decorate trees throughout the building, we take them out to look at Christmas lights, and, of course, we tell them all about Jesus and His own experience being homeless. Children take great comfort in knowing that Jesus understands what they're going through.
As we enter Advent and the Christmas season, please remember all the special kids experiencing homelessness today who are made in His image. After all, when you care for these precious children, you care for Jesus Himself.