December 16, 2002
Youth in Spokane to Gather for Christmas Party
The Christmas season is anything but cheery for homeless youth in Spokane. Instead of celebrating with their families, homeless teens spend the holiday much like the rest of the year: seeking food, shelter and comfort in unlikely places. Teens will gather for a respite from life on the streets at a Christmas party on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. at City Gate Fellowship, 170 S. Madison. St.
The party is the culmination of planning and fund raising by Whitworth students in the fall semester's Faith and Politics class, taught by Politics and History Professor Julia Stronks. Party organizers are also members of Whitworth's Street Kids Project, a student-run program directed by Stronks that works in partnership with Cup of Cool Water, an outreach program for homeless youth run by Whitworth alumnus Mark Terrell.
The Christmas party will feature a hot meal, caroling, games and a reading of the Christmas narrative. Each teen will also receive a backpack filled with gloves, a hat, toiletries, food and a gift. The backpacks will also contain gift certificates that were donated by local businesses including Target, Wal-Mart and Pizza Pipeline.
"We wanted to hold a party to show these kids how much we care about them; it might be the only Christmas many of them get to have and we want them to feel loved," says Whitworth freshman and party organizer Katie Stephens.
The Christmas party stems from a class project, "Project Impact," launched by the Faith and Politics students, for which they gave presentations on campus to heighten awareness of poverty issues in Spokane and encouraged people to get involved. As part of the project, the students planned the Christmas party and raised funds by holding a change drive in the residence halls. The Whitworth Symphony also held a benefit performance at a local church and raised $380 for the party.
Cup of Cool Water is housed in the same building as City Gate Fellowship and provides emergency, long-term and referral services to help homeless teens exit street life. The program serves youth up to age 22 and offers a drop-in center and hot meals two days per week, and outreach services two days per week. The organization has also started a school that helps homeless youth earn their general education degrees.
While Whitworth's Faith and Politics class spent one semester addressing issues of poverty and homelessness in Spokane, the college's Street Kids Project is a year-round endeavor that works in conjunction with Cup of Cool Water. Approximately 90 Whitworth students have been trained to take part in the program since its inception in 2001. Fifty students are participating this year, Stronks says.
The students help prepare and serve hot meals at Cup of Cool Water, and hand out bag lunches to homeless youth wherever they can be found - chiefly at the bus station and under bridges downtown. The students' primary goal is to develop relationships with homeless youth, Stronks says.
"Whitworth students spend time talking with the homeless kids, build relationships with them, and demonstrate Christ's love to them," Stronks says. "One of our goals is to have the Whitworth students work as tutors for Cup of Cool Water's new G.E.D. program; it's still in the planning stages and we need a van to transport students downtown."
Whitworth senior Charissa Rohner, a volunteer with the Street Kids Project, has started a choir comprised of homeless youth who enjoy singing. Six to seven youth gather regularly to practice; the choir will sing at the Christmas party if enough members are in attendance.
"The choir gives the kids something to look forward to and something fun to do that they love," Rohner says. "Several of the homeless youth really enjoy singing, and now they have a place where they can sing and be encouraged.
"If the choir becomes a consistent group with stable practices, we would like to sing in churches and other locations in Spokane to raise awareness and support for Cup of Cool Water and the kids who participate in the program."
Julia Stronks, professor of politics and history, and director of the Street Kids Project, (509) 777-4577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Riddle, public information specialist, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3729 or email@example.com.