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Think about your favorite Christmas memories as a child. Waking up early and pressing your face to the window to see if it snowed. Running downstairs to see what Santa left under the tree. Marveling at the twinkling lights and the warmth that can only come from a loving family.

For at-risk children growing up poor and neglected on the streets of America’s inner cities, Christmas often conjures up very different memories. While other kids were waking up to colorfully wrapped presents and stockings stuffed with goodies, these children were lucky just to scrounge a fast-food meal and make it through the day without being beaten, shot or worse. For them, Christmas was simply another day to survive.

This is why Christmas is so special at Boys Town. For many of the youth who live in Family Homes on campus, this is the first time they’ve truly experienced the holiday as it was meant to be experienced — a day of love, giving and family.

Going Overboard

The main goal of Christmas in a Boys Town Family Home is to create positive memories for the youth who live there. Because of this, Boys Town Family-Teachers tend to go above and beyond when it comes to celebrating the holiday. This means decorating the house from top to bottom with tinsel, mistletoe, candy canes and just about every possible ornament. The Christmas tree is the center of activity, trimmed with as many lights as it can bear and topped with a shining star. Carols are sung, cocoa is consumed and hearts are warmed by the season. In a word, Christmas as Boys Town is spectacular.

All in the Family

Fundamentally, Christmas is all about family, which means it is also a time for former Boys Town youth to visit and catch up with their Family-Teachers. They’ll often stay for a large and lavish holiday dinner — lending a hand to prepare, of course. And, when the turkey is golden brown and the potatoes are fork-tender, everyone gathers around the large dining room table to enjoy the holiday meal as one big, happy family.

The influence of such unrestrained joy is evident on the faces of all who attend. Smiling broadly, they take pictures to commemorate the occasion before helping to clear away the plates and platters and head to bed for a deep, peaceful sleep.

Years from now, long after they’ve graduated, these children will pass on their own holiday traditions, many of which will have their roots in their first Boys Town Christmas.

For more, check out this video.