Sarah wants just one thing this holiday season: a gift card to Starbucks.
Fifteen-year-old Sarah sits curled in a chair, her long hair hiding an unsure smile as I ask her what kind of gift cards she might like. “American Eagle? Target? A pizza place?” I suggest. She is wary and hesitant. I don’t ask her what circumstances brought her into the foster care system. I have been involved with that system long enough to know that whatever the details, it includes unimaginable heartbreak. “Starbucks?” I continue.
Her smile brightens, perhaps commonplace for any teen, but a breakthrough for Sarah. She replies “Yeh. Starbucks.”
“Starbucks. Ok. What else? Old Navy? WalMart? Movies?” I ask.
“Just Starbucks,” she says.
“You must really like coffee,” I joke.
“Not really,” she replies, “But, when me and my friends go to Starbucks, they usually have to pay for me. I want to be able pay for them.” I am stunned, as I often am in my work with foster children, by the kindness that continues to bloom in a field tilled with trauma. Sarah, who has so little for herself, wants only to repay kindness. What we may view as a simple act, buying someone a cup of coffee, means so much more to a teen who has experienced trauma. It’s not the coffee that Sarah values: it’s the inclusion, the friendship, the normalcy of having a cup of coffee with friends. It is her peers telling her she is worthy and valued.
This is exactly why I began the Christmas Wallet program. Having six foster children of my own, I can personally testify to the difficulty of finding the means to provide care beyond the basics of food and safe shelter; providing typical teenager things which promote healing and growth. Things like camps, music lessons, sports, prom dresses, and, yes, Christmas gifts. Many gift-giving organizations have an age cut-off of 12 or 13, meaning the teenagers most in need are excluded.
I urge you to make this holiday season one of inclusion by donating to the Christmas Wallet program, even if it is only enough for a couple cups of coffee. Because it is not the cup of coffee you are giving: it is the inclusion, the friendship, the normalcy. It is telling a traumatized teenager they are worthy and valued.
We support this program year round, as wallets are also gifted for special occasion, graduations, birthday or other holidays.