“It felt like everything was how it used to be. The Holiday Party at the Blaisdell was back! For me and my husband, it’s nice to know that all these families who attend the party are just like us, whether they have 5 kids or 13 kids, as we do. They know how it feels to be Resource Caregivers or adoptive parents. And the kids… ever since we got the invite, they couldn’t wait to see their friends and, of course, there’s the gifts from Santa. We told them it was because they’re special. And that’s how Family Programs Hawaii makes us feel….special.”
-Susan, Resource Caregiver
Being separated from their families can be hard for any child in foster care but the holidays can be an especially difficult time. That’s why the Family Programs Hawaii “Annual Holiday Party for Keiki and Families in Foster Care” is always important as it ensures that every keiki in attendance has the best holiday imaginable. And what made this year’s 24th event even more special? It was the first in-person celebration since the pandemic in 2019. Children, youth, and families returned to the Blaisdell Center Exhibition Hall on Sunday, December 6, 2022 for a day of fun-filled activities, food, and of course, presents from Santa.
Thanks to the support of the local community, including the event title sponsor, Cades Foundation, Sunday’s schedule was packed with a fun-filled afternoon for all in attendance, not just for the children and youth. The holiday festivities included booths manned by our sponsors and local community partners consisting of games, activities, an assortment of prizes, and delectable treats, like the time-honored tradition of freshly spun cotton candy and hot popcorn. Friends waved at each other from across the room, excitedly yelling “Hello!” while holding stuffed animals and other highly-sought after items they won, all the while laughing at their blue or pink-tinged tongues. Families talked story with one another while eating bentos, knowing that all the other families in the room could relate to their own experience as Resource Caregivers, Guardians or adoptive parents. Many guests felt the excitement overtake them and got up to dance to holiday tunes played by our own CCR Band. And when the dancers from the Iolani Dance Program under “Mrs. O” began their routine, everyone stared in awe, clapping enthusiastically after each performance. And siblings, separated by different homes and different Resource Caregivers saw each other for the “first time in forever,” as one brother and sister commented. “She looks old, now. She’s an old lady!” the brother laughed as his sister playfully punched him on his shoulder. “I look the same as last time… when we went to the beach, you remember?” referring to their monthly visits organized by our Project Visitation program. Everything was back to normal.
And, of course, the culmination of the whole event was the presets from Santa, lovingly hand-picked and wrapped by a cadre of volunteers for each and every keiki and youth at the celebration. The sheer excitement of receiving gifts, just for them because they are special was enthusiastically welcomed by each member of the family – the children and youth, some of whom couldn’t wait for the drive home, ripped into their gifts to find the “cool and awesome” toys, dolls, and a whole assortment of goodies; the family members, who looked on with smiles at their happy keiki, a few dabbing their eyes with tissue; and the volunteers and staff, who spent a countless number of hours in preparation for this one moment in time.
“You Are Amazing” was this year’s chosen theme. Our keiki should come away with the knowledge that they matter and can go the distance. We can all agree that every child and youth is amazing, especially those who have persevered through many hardships in the foster care system. And every child and youth deserves an equally amazing future. After all…
“[We] believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”
For eighteen years, Family Programs Hawaii has been providing children in foster care a day in which dreams can and do come true. Through the generous support of donors, the community, staff, and numerous volunteers, a winter wonderland is created in the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall, where friends, family, and familiar faces gather together for a day of fun. Due to the pandemic, for the last two years, a decades-old tradition was interrupted, and instead, plans pivoted to an outdoor drive-thru for 350 families. However, face-to-face interaction, a crucial factor in our years of success, was missing. As one family stated, “The kids have been asking, ‘When are we going back to the Blaisdell?’ There’s just something about seeing everyone together that makes the biggest difference.” And a second family reinforced this feeling. “Hopefully, next year we’ll be able to return to the Blaisdell, so there’s more time to be around the people you care about. It’s all about being around one another. That’s what makes Family Programs Hawaii and the annual holiday party something to remember.” So this year, there was no hesitation in returning to the Blaisdell for the traditional celebration everyone has come to know and love. “The drive-thru was amazing… for a drive-thru. But there’s nothing like experiencing the event where it should be – at the Blaisdell. You feel the emotion of everyone in attendance – the excitement, the anticipation, the past past memories – surging throughout the room. And you can’t help but get caught up in the whirlwind that is the annual holiday party,” one volunteer summed up the afternoon.
And indeed, it was a memorable afternoon. After months of preparation, organizing meetings, finalizing the layout, communicating with the venue, volunteers and supporters, and soliciting sponsors to solidify the fundraising efforts, families, along with volunteers were involved in creating an amazing 24th Annual Holiday Party. It truly was a positively overwhelming experience to witness the outpouring of support from everyone across the State, as well as the mainland.
Overall, the 24th Annual Holiday Party was a true success. As families left, full from the ono food and content from a relaxing, yet exciting program, the one prevalent question on everyone’s minds was, “What’s the date for next year’s event?”