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CULTUREFAMILY

Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Holiday For Hope

The Holiday for Hope program helps over a thousand people in Chicago

Holiday for Hope Dreams for Kids Chicago

No matter which winter holiday you choose to partake in (Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, etc) the act of giving is important. This is the time of year when we show gratitude for the people who have supported us and kindness for complete strangers.Holiday for Hope is a local and global event that provides gifts, resources, and care for underserved communities in Chicago and other cities and countries during this Holiday Season. They do a great deal for people this city can so easily forget, and their dedication is certainly inspiring. I had the chance to sit down with Tom Tuohy, founder of Dreams for Kids, and talk about how this Chicago institution came about.

“I started Dreams for Kids 30 years ago on my mother’s suggestion. Our first event came from a random phone conversation I had with Clara Kirk, who ran a shelter for abused women and their kids. When we visited with gifts it had a profound effect on us. The next year we visited 2 shelters. The year after that it was 3. Then we needed an even bigger space so we hosted an event at a church and managed to reach 300 kids. Today we have over 1200 kids who take part in Holiday for Hope.”

Tom Tuohy

Community and Connections

Kids participate in Holiday for Hope activities
Kids participate in Holiday for Hope activities

The sheer reach Holiday for Hope has is impressive but it’s important to realize that the charity does a bit more than gift giveaways. While that is an integral portion of their activities, Holiday for Hope also focuses on providing the resources and support that communities might not have. 

“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand up.”

Tom Tuohy

With the shrinking American middle-class, the number of people who simply don’t have access to the resources they need is much higher than it should be. There are a lot of neighborhoods in Chicago that don’t have a community center which deprives people living in the area of both a source of information and a gathering place. When asked how Holiday for Hope affected these neighborhoods, Tom Tuohy had this to say:

“We provide a sense of community with our event. A lot of the time, living in a state of poverty or homelessness can make you feel disconnected. We want to give people that sense of belonging.”

Tom Tuohy
Holiday for Hope in 2011 Dreams for Kids Washington DC
Holiday for Hope in 2011
Resources Reaching Out

Holiday for Hope also provides a number of resources for its visitors beyond just seasonal gifts. There are tables and booths covering everything from proper nutrition to legal advice. There are sections focusing on meditation, yoga, and massage so adults can learn destressing techniques and relax. The Legal Aid Society also arrives to assist and advise people who may not be able to afford it otherwise. These are a small percentage of the services Holiday for Hope provides, which is evidence the charity’s quality.

By giving citizens of disconnected or forgotten communities access to the same information as everyone else, Holiday for Hope increases the likelihood of these families’ future success. Information is power, and when we don’t provide equal access to it, we lose potential innovative ideas for the people we deprive. Utilization of these resources can make all the difference and benefit these communities greatly in the long run.

How to Help

This year Holiday for Hope will be hosting their annual event in Chicago on December 15th at. It may not be that far off, but there are still plenty of things you can do to help the kids of Holiday for Hope.

  • You can donate money here.
  • You can also donate toys, crafts, or food at any of the Holiday for Hope donation boxes or other donation locations. You can contact Claire Marquette for more information on locations here: cmarquette@dreamsforkids.org
  • You can volunteer to help wrap gifts on December 13th here.
  • You can volunteer on the actual day of the event here.
  • You can print flyers to promote the Toy drive in your neighborhood here.
  • You can print flyers to promote the actual event here.

The Origin Story

Gifts ready for families at Holiday for Hope Dreams for Kids Chicago
Gifts ready for families at Holiday for Hope

What with the large number of families that Holiday for Hope aids now, it’s hard to believe it had humble beginnings. Tom Tuohy credits the idea’s inception to his mother:

“I was one of these kids. My father disappeared from our lives when I was 8 so she was a single parent. She recognized that not just her love and commitment was supporting me, she had the community too. I just want to pay that forward.”

Tom Tuohy

It was later in his life, that Tom would understand exactly what she had done for him. Sometimes the ability to see things in perspective is something that is gifted from another person, in Tom’s case that person was Jesse White. If you recognize Jesse’s name, it’s likely because he’s been serving as Illinois’s Secretary of State since 1999. As Tom attests, Jesse had a profound effect on his personal outlook:

“I wanted to be a lawyer for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to be successful and get the heck out of where I was. We shouldn’t want that, we should want to improve where we are instead. Jesse was the first person I’d ever met who was in the newspapers. For some reason, he saw something in me and gave me that focused attention. He invited me to Cabrini Green, which I was apprehensive about at first. I knew it was the most dangerous project in the city, probably the world. But when I went there, I stopped feeling like I was a victim and realized that I had something to give.”

Tom Tuohy

Children are the Future

Dreams For Kids students

Dreams for Kids operates on child-centric programming with the belief that educating kids in disadvantageous situations can generate new solutions and ideas that will improve the community. In the beginning of the organization, their YES (Youth Enterprise Solutions) program is what indicated to Tom that they were on to something:

“At the beginning of the YES program, we wanted the remind the kids in Cabrini Green and Englewood that they are leaders now. We went to Harlen High School and asked for a small group of students to be our first leaders. 99% of the student population was living in extreme poverty and 20% was homeless.”

The YES program’s educators started telling the Harlen kids about the Diveheart Program. Diveheart is an organization that still runs to this day and takes children, adults, and veterans living with disabilities deep sea diving. For many of these people, the feeling of diving is described as incredibly freeing and has a real positive impact on them. When Dreams for Kids mentioned to the students of Harlen that the children at ICRE, a state-run disabilities facility, were currently raising money to go diving themselves, they took immediate action.

“They broke off from us and spoke for a few minutes amongst themselves. Then they came back and presented us with their lunch money for the day to donate to the cause. These kids had almost no money at home and they were still willing to give. Then they decided to fundraise for on behalf of the ICRE kids as well and got about $2000. After that, we knew that not only did they have the capacity to lead, they had the capacity to give.”

Tom Tuohy

If we give kids the opportunity to help others and play a significant role in change, we teach them how to make a more positive impact on their community. The more people we train to work for the betterment of those around them, the higher the likelihood of a brighter future. The world tends to underestimate children, and when we tell them they aren’t capable of carving the path they want to follow, we doom ourselves to stagnation. New and great ideas can come from anyone, and giving kids the chance to drive those ideas forward is probably one of the best things we can do for our own future.

Holiday for Hope provides more of these resources and opportunities to both children and parents. If a family is more informed they can make healthier life choices, set loftier goals, and understand the situation around them. Knowledge is a tool people can utilize in an endless number of ways and to give people access to it is to give them access to a better future.

30 Years of Excellence

Dreams for Kids, Washington D.C. Chapter
Dreams for Kids, Washington D.C. Chapter

Ultimately both Dreams for Kids and Holiday for Hope focus on assisting kids in low-income families get the leg up that they need. To do this for 30 years is impressive for a charity organization, and it’s not something everyone can pull off. Tom let us in on the secret to their staying power:

“No matter what sector you work in, you always need an infusion of young leadership. They bring new ideas and new passion to the table, which is invaluable to us. We have excellent leadership right now, Marni Levine is the president of our Associate Board and Sagar Sheth is the President and Chairman of the Executive Board of Directors. They’re both young and talented and they do a great job.”

Tom Tuohy
Becoming an Institution

There’s certainly a level of cache and recognition that comes with being such a long-standing organization. Tom reflected on this by saying:

“In Chicago, we’re definitely a long-standing and respected organization, but we also have a chapter in Washington D.C. and have hosted programs in seven other cities.”

Tom Tuohy

When asked if this level of recognition opened any doors for Dreams for Kids Tom responded by saying:

“Doors can be opened by reputation, but they stay open with integrity. It’s all about who you are and what you produce. People need to believe in us as much as we believe in us.”

Tom Tuohy
Ever Evolving

From humble beginnings, Dreams for Kids has grown steadily over the years, expanding its programs and views at every turn. As mentioned previously, the organization isn’t in the business of handouts, instead of they focus on giving people the skills and tools they need to build a better future.

“We’ve evolved our mission by replacing charity with opportunity. We’ve allowed people to take control of their lives by giving them the necessary resources. Today we provide social entrepreneurship education to young people and students.”

Tom Tuohy

This service gives young people attending Dreams for Kids programs a significant leg up as they’re planning their future. The job market their schools are training them for will be vastly different by the time they graduate. To stay ahead of the curve and raise their chances of employment, Dreams for Kids teaches children to not only implement their own original ideas but engage their communities in it as well.

“Providing these programs will allow students to understand what their peers may not. It’s been projected that half the jobs we have today will be gone by the time these kids graduate. So, we’re training them to create their own businesses that drive both social good and profit.”

Tom Tuohy

The Future is Bright

Given Dreams for Kids‘ track record of self-improvement and evolution, it’s not surprising they’re moving towards bigger and better things. Tom remarked:

“I’m excited for the next 30 years. We need to take our model and replicate it for as many people as possible.”

Tom Tuohy

Dreams for Kids is planning on doing this with its YES program, by partnering with ClassCraft, an engagement management system that creates personalized learning systems designed to make education more relevant and meaningful to students and motivate them to be deeply engaged with a practical curriculum that prepares them for the future.

ClassCraft transforms the learning experience to meet students where they are, instead of force-feeding education that isn’t designed for them. Gamification of curriculum motivates students by turning their progress in school into a game they play together. This powerful process rewires social dynamics to ensure no student is excluded and it builds a supportive environment where students thrive. It also provides teachers with real-time data to measure student progress, adjust curriculum and create profound student outcomes. Tom had this to say:  

“We can only do so much where we are, and how we think. But if we meet students where they are, and provide them with a learning experience designed for them, we can help transform education. Advancing social entrepreneurship education on a personalized engagement management system has infinite possibilities. This digital platform can reach students in all states and every corner of the world to provide essential real world education in a method that works.   We are currently building collaborative partnerships with national and global youth organizations that have the potential to change everything. In a time where our challenges seem overwhelming and our divisions appear insurmountable, this is the generation we have been waiting for. If we serve them in a way they deserve, they will change the world.”

Tom Tuohy

Again if you want to help out Holiday for Hope you can do so in the following ways:

  • You can donate money here.
  • You can also donate toys, crafts, or food at any of the Holiday for Hope donation boxes or other donation locations. You can contact Claire Marquette for more information on locations here: cmarquette@dreamsforkids.org
  • You can volunteer to help wrap gifts on December 13th here.
  • You can volunteer on the actual day of the event here.
  • You can print flyers to promote the Toy drive in your neighborhood here.
  • You can print flyers to promote the actual event here.
Madeleine Hettich
Madeleine Hettich is a graphic designer, writer, illustrator, and comic book artist. After graduating with a BFA degree (with an emphasis in Visual Communications Design) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer before being hired by GREY. She continues to develop independent illustration and comics projects in her own time. This background gives her a unique perspective when writing about any number of topics.

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