Many of us are in the midst of another busy Christmas season. We are busy decorating, planning parties, buying gifts and so forth. But how many of us teenagers stop to think about those less fortunate than ourselves and really appreciate what we have?
Definitely not the majority of us, but I think this is because as teens, we don't all get the opportunity I had this month to meet with two homeless teenagers at St. Anne's Center. For those of you who don't know, St. Anne's is an Ogden homeless shelter and soup kitchen which is currently housing 28 children under the age of 17.
Getting to hear these boys (whose names will not be revealed) share their personal feelings about their situations reached me on a deep level, the way that I hope this article reaches many of you and inspires you the way these boys have inspired me.
Walking into St. Anne's, I was nervous. I was expecting the teens to be very reserved and reluctant to open up with me about their situations, as any teen typically would be. But all of that changed when I was first introduced to a boy of only 16, my same age. He greeted me warmly with a smile and I immediately felt welcome.
I first asked how long he had been homeless and he told me it had been about three months.
"This experience brought me and my mom closer because all we have is each other," he told me.
This is when his smile grew dim and he proceeded to tell me how hopeless he felt. He told me it had felt like the end of the world for him; "You think it won't happen to you, but in just one day your entire world can turn upside down."
I was sad hearing this from someone my age, but I was happy when he told me he was still going to school every day and trying hard to change his life.
"School is my nirvana, it lets me escape," he said.
As an average teenager in high school, I froze. I knew how tough high school seemed for me, but I couldn't begin to imagine how tough it must have been for him to go to school every day with such a secret.
"I have to separate my personal life from my education. It's hard when my friends ask me to hang out and I have to explain to them where I live," he told me. I teared up at this point, but held myself together.
Finally, I asked him what he wanted other teens to know about being homeless.
"I want them to know what a great place St. Anne's is; they have such genuine people that go out of their way to help you. I also want teens to take the time to appreciate what they have, and show compassion for teens in my situation."
Next I was introduced to a 12-year-old boy currently living with his mom and siblings at St. Anne's Center. He, too, gave me a big smile and greeted me happily. He was very energetic and began to tell me how he had just started junior high.
"I like to play basketball and hang out with my friends. My friends are the best part of school," he told me.
With him being so young, I wondered how much he really knew about his situation. He told me, "I know I don't feel normal, we've been homeless for about three months and it's been a big adjustment for me."
"What's the most difficult thing?" I asked him.
"Having to move away from my friends and make new ones," he said.
I asked how he felt about this Christmas season and what he wanted. At this point his demeanor saddened and he said, "Well, last year we didn't get anything for Christmas." Another tearful moment for me.
This 12-year-old said he'd like other teens to know "that it's hard. It's really hard but I'm trying my best."
What advice do you have for other teens in your situation? I asked. "To stay strong because they can make it through, they just have to stay positive," he said. All this from a 12-year-old. I was very impressed, but more than that I was inspired.
Being lucky enough to speak with these two teens was a greater experience than I could have imagined. I was so impressed with their strength and positive attitudes, but more than that, I felt proud to be in their presence. St. Anne's Center provides such great help for these teens and their families, and it's vital that we help the facility and other organizations like it continue their good work.
As a teen, you may think there isn't much you can do, but that's not true. Since my interviews, I found out what both those teens wanted for Christmas and have already donated the items to St. Anne's Center. You can either buy presents for these teens, or donate anything you have in good condition. Even just taking the time to volunteer is important. This could really make a great Christmas for these teens and their families.
Christmas is not just presents, parties and decorating. If we're not taking the time to show compassion and help out as much as we can, then we're losing the true meaning of Christmas. No kid should have to wake up on Christmas morning without something to make him or her smile.
You can call St. Anne's at 801-621-5036 for more details on donating and volunteering or log onto www.stannescenter.org. Make a difference this Christmas, because that's what Christmas is all about.
Miranda Romero is a junior at St. Joseph Catholic High School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.