When we as a staff made the decision to go all-virtual with our programming, including ending outdoor programs, my stomach twisted with one specific realization. I kept myself muted in that zoom, chewing over one thought, one that caused the bitterness of grief to spread over the back of my throat: I had to call Linda.
Linda Kennedy is a youth mom, our youth council chair, a member of our innovation lab team, and before you get any wrong impressions, I love talking to her; it was just what I had to tell her I was dreading. Linda, you see, is also the architect of our annual Youth Christmas Party. In the last four years, Linda has worked with the staff and other volunteers to deliver over-the-top, exceptionally fun, immersive, meticulously-themed parties that are a huge highlight of the semester for our teenagers (and their parents, and the volunteers, and the youth staff).
Knowing that the pandemic would make our normal 100-person indoor event impossible, Linda had been working with us as a staff throughout the fall on imagining her (this year Charlie Brown-themed) Christmas Party an outdoor event, with socially distanced stations, a way of doing a white elephant where only one person touches all the presents, and more, to create a meaningful experience for our young people safely.
I was in knots because I had to call Linda, less than two weeks before the event, and tell her it wasn’t going to happen. She was gracious and understanding, of course. I offered her an out, that I understood how hard and demoralizing reinventing the wheel over and over again can be, but before I even got the word “cancel” out of my mouth, she told me that every single teenager was getting one of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree kits she had made, even if she had to deliver them herself.
So last week, we exchanged a lot of texts and phone calls, and we pulled together a drive-through Christmas party, with stations, treats, surprises, and an abundance of decorations (including on the construction fence in the parking lot, there’s always fresh surprises).
And y’all, it was fun, and sweet, and we got to see kids that we love, and show them they matter to us, and hear them laugh as Gabby threw stuffed “snowballs” through their car windows. At my station (Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help 5 cents” booth) I could see Matt, holding a blue blanket, and reading, to every car, the same words, ripped straight from the script, and from the King James:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…”
And it made me smile. It struck me that Linda couldn’t have picked a better theme for this year than this one. A story of kid going into Christmas burned out and bummed, of a big event that all goes wrong, of a dinky little tree which people don’t think is good enough, and in the end, of all of the trappings of Christmas giving way to a child reading a simple story, a little tree that wasn’t so bad after all, and of joy, hope, peace, and love shining through in the midst of our frustrations, our over-it-ness, our “good grief.”
I’m grateful for Linda, for Erin (who took these precious photos), for Jillian, for Brenda, Matt, and Gabby, and for all of the youth families that have stayed alongside us and alongside each other over these past ten months of struggle, unmet expectations, imperfect circumstances. We do it all for you, and we love you more than you know.
Director of Youth Ministries