CHRIS 180 needs your help in making this Christmas bright for children and youths in foster care.
CHRIS 180 is an Atlanta-based nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of children, adults and families with behavioral health services and support systems. CHRIS is an acronym that stands for its core values: Creativity, Honor, Respect, Integrity and Safety.
The organization annually serves a total of 200 to 250 metro Atlanta foster kids and youths by providing safe foster homes and apartments and through other programs, with 60 living in those residences at any given time. Each year CHRIS 180 gives them at least five presents for Christmas at a total cost of about $200 per person.
But this year the nonprofit has fallen short of that goal thus far since the 20 parties where donations are made were cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kathy Colbenson, LMFT, its president and CEO.
“We (normally) have the toy party, which gives us a full truckload, and then we have other companies that have sponsored at their holiday parties, ask people to bring gifts and then some churches and other places of worship have provided gifts,” she said. “Because those get-togethers aren’t happening, it really does make it hard.”
This year the organization is sending its staff out to stores to buy presents for them to help offset the drop in donations.
Ryan Mack, CHRIS 180’s JourneyZ group homes program director, said the nonprofit hopes to give as many presents to its foster children and youths as in past years but is expecting that number to decrease due to the pandemic.
“It’s very important” they get Christmas gifts, he said. “Because of COVID, there are a lot of changes for everyone. The youths in our program are stuck in the home and away from some families (with) the fear of the unknown.
“We want to bring some type of joy and continue to create a family atmosphere. Most of our youths have come from difficult backgrounds and have been through some hurt and heartache, so we want to make sure they have a great Christmas.”
Mack and Cobenson said they want foster children and youths to have as normal a Christmas as anyone else their age.
“One of things people don’t realize is, as a mom, I sacrificed to try getting my daughter the thing she really wanted, at least one thing she really wanted,” Colbenson said. “At CHRIS 180, we strive to get (foster children and youths) something they really want. … Foster kids want the same thing as other kids, like the electronic games and the other things teenagers want.
“Being in foster care, you feel very different. Then that difference is accentuated when you don’t have the things other kids in your school have. And that makes it even harder.”
Mack added, “A lot of our youths have gone through a lot of trauma, and they look at CHRIS 180 like a family, so we want to make sure they have a great Christmas. CHRIS 180 makes sure the kids get what they ask for.
“They’ve been through a lot of broken promises. At an early age, they’ve experience a lot of letdown, more than I have at my age. At CHRIS 180 we want to makes sure they received some gifts and some love and to know there are people in this world that really care about them.”
Donations, which can be money or items, can be made online by visiting www.chris180.org or by mail or in person at CHRIS 180’s office, located at 1030 Fayetteville Road, Atlanta, GA 30316. Individuals making in-person donations must wear a mask while at the office, and all gifts must be received by Dec. 21.
“I’ve been here 33 years and it brings tears to my eyes every year,” Colbenson said of the day CHRIS 180’s foster children and youths get their Christmas gifts. “I had one youth a year or so ago who walked up to me and said, ‘Miss Kathy, this is the first time I’ve had a gift that really felt personal.’ I (said), ‘Oh, my gosh.’”