The True Spirit of Christmas

This custom of once a year being nice to each other and giving each other gifts has always made me uncomfortable. It’s not that I don’t like being nice or gift-giving, but it’s how we treat each other the rest of the year that really counts. In the end even Scrooge gave gifts but it’s what we don’t give on those other 364 days that concerns me.

If giving makes us feel good one day a year, why not give of yourself every day. Small or big random acts of kindness are not impossible to maintain daily, but it does take dedication and intent. The payoff, though, is huge. Hundreds of people, most of whom you do not even know, appreciate a stranger doing something generous for them. But the real payoff will be to yourselves as you engage in improving your personal mental health.

This Christmas, write a letter to those you love. A letter that will let them know that you not only care about them but that you have considered them carefully and you really “get” them. We all strive to be truly understood.

Dan’s Legacy had many challenges this year, but we pulled together and came out the other side even stronger. We’ve built a larger and diverse team of partners, supporters, members, and Directors who are helping us extend our reach and built awareness of our work. Although we are becoming more recognized as an independent non-profit society with programming that makes a huge difference in young lives affected by trauma and abuse, we still struggle to raise the needed funds to exist.

As we build our staffing team I can now focus on providing therapy and life-skills to over a hundred youth this coming year. To date we have reached over two hundred youth, most of whom have gone on to graduate, find and keep housing, finish their culinary training and have maintained their recovery.

Here is an example of a youth who needs our help:

“Johnny” is 20 years old and was born to a street worker addicted to heroin. He was taken away from his mother and put into an abusive foster home where he was sexually abused. “Johnny” was in over a dozen foster placements before he turned 13. In reaction to the years of trauma and sexual abuse he got into more and more trouble. Arrested at 15 for selling meth to support his own habit, he was sent to the Willingdon Youth Detention Centre where he was immediately recruited into a Langley street gang. They set him up as a driver for a “dial-a-dope operation”, and then later promoted him to the job of “enforcer”. His job was to beat up rival dealers or clients who didn’t pay their bills. When asked to move to the next level, a hit man, he decided he had had enough and ran away. He now lives in hiding. Another youth who ran away with him was killed by the gang a few months ago.

“Johnny” has tried to stay clean but has relapsed a couple of times; he’s now in a hospital psychiatric ward for Meth Psychosis. He wants a life free from drugs and street crime. He wants to go back to school. He wants to have a relationship with a girlfriend, not a financial transaction with a stranger. I had seen him a few times but because of the relapse lost track of him until he called me from the hospital. I believe he is ready for change, do you?

Next year’s group of young people will have the same need for our help and will have suffered the same trauma and abuse issues. There are at least a thousand kids out there right now waiting for help, and that is only going to grow as we raise children in increasingly stressful times. I will do my best to be there for “Johnny”, and all the others, but it will take a team to reach this youth with the critical therapy and life-skills that will enable him to change his life.

We will continue to fundraise, grow our presence in the community, and develop key relationships with other organizations and every level of government. Our board can offer their support by opening doors and finding new opportunities. With increased funding we can then hire the trained therapists eager and waiting to work with us, giving us the capacity to meet the current need and grow to meet the coming need.

If we think the crisis we are now facing with opioids is terrifying, wait until these youth form the next wave. This Christmas, I send you all my personal thanks for everything you’ve done to help us help these kids this past year. If I could make one small ask, it is that you make a Christmas promise to continue working with us to reach these youth. Whether you volunteer, serve as an ambassador for the cause, or make a donation to support our counselling and life-skills programming, your help makes a difference.

Together we can divert them from the path of homelessness, addiction, mental health issues and suicide that will be their future if we don’t bridge the gaps that threaten to swallow them.

Christmas is a great time to think about giving, but I encourage you to give of yourselves every day next year with random acts of kindness. These youth are reaching out to us for help – be there for them with an outstretched hand. Not only can we as a team help them, but you will invest within yourselves something that is priceless.

Tom Littlewood

Program Director, Dan’s Legacy