Treat me like a human being. This was the declaration on a handmade poster lying on one of the gym mats where kids play in the Homes for the Homeless shelter in Queens. I paused and took a photograph of the poster.
The visit to the shelter this month was part of a New York Natives journey to learn a little more about a charity brightening the holiday season for our city’s forgotten kids. The organization called The New York City Children’s Holiday Party has a name that reflects exactly what it does — give New York City homeless children a joyful evening during a time of year that celebrates home and family.
On December 11th, around 800 homeless children will experience a night on Broadway at Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. The kids will share a special meal at Dallas BBQ before the curtain rises, time with Santa after the show, hugs, love and more thanks to a committed group of volunteers who have been giving their time and expertise for a decade.
The coordination is as tight as a military exercise. In past years, the NYCCHP has even convinced the city to shut down Broadway so kids could cross Times Square en masse! One of the volunteers Bill Conway told us, “One year it snowed so hard, and there were hundreds of kids. When the buses from the shelter arrived we carried each child in our arms over the snow, so they could all see the show.”
How did this holiday miracle begin?
Well, 10 years ago, a little New York City boy named Arjun Garg decided he wanted to give his toys away during the holidays. With the approval of the New York Department of Homeless Services, Arjun’s mother Madhu began The New York City Children’s Holiday Party. What started as a well-organized event in the Trinity School with toys and activities is now an epic occasion.
Over the last decade, homeless kids have enjoyed outings to Broadway shows like The Lion King and entertainment like The Big Apple Circus, a Knicks game, special time with Santa, a group meal at Dallas BBQ, and more through donations and an amazing group of volunteers.
The entire experience is paid through funds raised by individual donations and solicited sponsors, both individuals and corporates. The goal in 2013 is to raise over $300,000 through this year’s 10 year anniversary celebration at The Pierre Hotel on November 15th. Gala tickets and tables are available to the public. Individuals may also donate directly through the NYCCHP website. The organization is 100-percent volunteer-run with tax-exempt status under Section 501 (C) (3).
The upcoming gala evening includes a special performance by Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. Emmy Award-winning WPIX Morning News anchor Sukanya Krishnan will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Among the live auction items for the evening is a one-hour private tennis lesson with John McEnroe.
The race to raise $300,000 for a holiday experience for these kids is on. I keep that picture on my phone. Treat me like a human being. It reminds me why this type of outreach is important.
During the course of each year, nearly 40,000 children, sleep at least one night in the New York City shelter system. According to the NYCCHP, many of these children and their families had lived in regular housing until events such as a parent’s job loss or a disaster like Hurricane Sandy forced them to leave their homes. Without familiar celebrations, the holidays can be a painful reminder to these children of just how dramatically different their lives are now from other kids. The organization’s goal is to ensure the holidays are a happy time for these children by treating them to a festive experience, a party unlike any they’ve ever experienced before The New York City Children’s Holiday Party.
As they’re children, I can’t show you their photos. As adults, only we can be their advocates.
At the very least, we can give some of them what so many of us take for granted — a holiday celebration. They are our city’s kids, and they’re worth it.
Featured image courtesy of NYCCHP