I love that holiday season allows me to relax (professionally anyway) and wrap up some work items before launching headlong into the New Year’s projects. For the crew at RTP it’s also an opportunity to give back to the community in a manner that our workload often precludes. This year we’ve become acquainted with a local group, Youthcare who works with homeless and at-risk youth – getting them on their feet and going in a positive direction.

We quickly learned that Youthcare does more than offer teens a spot to crash and get a hot meal; their programs help those trying to get a leg-up on adulthood. I asked the Youthcare staff whether teens aging out of the foster system has an impact on their clients. They confirmed, that yes, indeed a large population of their clients are foster kids aging out of the system. But its not just the fosters, there are a million reasons that kids leave home – few of them are good.

I’ve been blessed to grow up in a large, welcoming family. For me, making mistakes as a youngster wasn’t tragic. Mom and Dad were there for support to anytime. I’d always known that no matter what stupid thing I did – choosing a bad job, hanging out with a reckless crowd, failing a class in college – my family would be beside me with stable advice, a warm bed and a stern admonition when I needed it (and yes, I always needed it!). Kids on the street have incredible hurdles to surpass, fears and questions that go unspoken, and overwhelming trust and security issues. Navigating adulthood without ready support can seem unsurmountable. This is where Youthcare plays an important role; offering direction, physical comfort, a safe place where they can launch into finding permanent housing and educational opportunities. I’m delighted that RTP is getting to help these kids move forward.

Our mission (which of course we accepted) was to prepare lunch for those who come into the Youthcare facility in downtown Seattle. Our team was greeted on a cold December morning by the resident Chef Shannon. We were directed to aprons and handwashing procedures as we checked in, then set into motion making a stir-fry, fresh fruit salad and cheesy biscuits. The food was simple and nutritious – but also smelled delicious. More important however, was the response we got from the youths as they passed through the food line. Some laughed with friends or joked with others in line – but despite the challenge of being homeless in the brisk winter weather, they were all well mannered and polite. They thanked us as we dished out lunch, stopping occasionally to chit chat – normal kids overall, just like those we all have at home. But these youth we knew, were facing challenges we had been fortunate to bypass. One of the kindest things you can do for the homeless (regardless of age) is see them as people – because that’s what they are: people facing challenges and needing our help.

As you bustle through crowds in this holiday season, picking up a last minute gifts for family, please remember that the disheveled teen sitting nearby may be struggling without home and family. Please be kind, and if you’re inclined, dedicate a portion of your holiday giving to those needing a hand up. You can contact Youthcare at youthcare.org/