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A Christmas Tradition For Foster Teens Was Canceled By Coronavirus. Here’s How You Can Help Them

A Christmas tradition for foster teens about to age out of the system was canceled due to the pandemic. Here's how neighbors can step up.

Teens in the First Star program at a holiday celebration in Chicago.
Courtesy First Star Loyola
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Editor’s note: Readers have purchased nearly all of the items on First Star’s wish list, and the remaining items are on backorder. To donate to First Star, click here.

ROGERS PARK — For foster teens in the First Star program at Loyola University Chicago, Christmas is one of the most special times of the year.

Aside from it being one of the only times in the year the kids can expect to get presents, the holiday allows them to see a side of Chicago they rarely experience: a holiday party in a Lincoln Park condo overlooking the lakefront.

The Christmas party could not happen in person this year, so instead the leaders of First Star are asking the public’s help in making foster kids’ holiday wishes come true.

First Star created an Amazon wish list where the 20 kids enrolled in its program have selected items they’d like for Christmas. To contribute, click here. To donate to First Star, click here.

Buying the gifts will allow teens about to age out of the foster program to have a bright Christmas in an especially trying year, said Bridget Couture, First Star program director.

“Holidays are hard for kids in [foster] care,” Couture said. “To have something to look forward to is really important.”

First Star is a national nonprofit that helps foster teens enroll in and graduate from college.

For teens that age out of the foster system without being adopted, finding a home can be a challenge — let alone finding a career, Couture said. First Star partners with colleges like Loyola to boost foster child graduate rates by enrolling students in four-year programs starting in high school, mentoring them and preparing them for higher education.

Loyola’s chapter of the First Star program was started six years ago with the help of Chicago lawyer Jay Paul Deratany.

Deratany, whose firm specializes in foster care cases, usually hosts a holiday party for First Star kids at his Lincoln Park home. At the party, First Star teens are showered with presents and have the Christmas many were denied as kids.

With in-person parties off-limits this year, First Star officials hope to still make Christmas special for the 20 teens enrolled in its program.

Deratany’s law office has already given the kids Amazon gift cards, but many of them used the gift to buy something for others, Couture said.

So the group got the idea to ask the teens what they want for Christmas — and then to ask the help of the public in buying the gifts.

“Seeing these kids open gifts, there’s nothing like it in the world,” Deratany said. “They feel like all other kids in the world.”

The Amazon wish list, Couture said, was a chance for the kids to do something they don’t often get the chance to do: dream big.

Many of the kids took that opportunity, requesting items like “ultra lux” bath bombs, Ugg booths and high-end shaving equipment.

Other teens added more practical gifts that will help them in their college goals, including printers, printer ink and leather-bound notebooks.

Items bought from the wish list will be sent to Deratany’s law offices. The plan is for the gifts to be distributed at an ice skating outing in early January.

Presents can be bought until Jan. 7.

The presents will help teens facing a daunting life change during an unprecedented time have a sense of normalcy this holiday season, and let them know that Chicagoans are thinking of and rooting for them.

“Foster kids, their humanity is forgotten a lot,” Couture said. “Every time some one thinks of them, that makes all the difference really.”

First Star Loyola’s Amazon wish list can be found here.

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