Bring the holiday spirit to at-risk tribal youth

By Shaelyn Smead, photo courtesy of Tea Marquez

The beda?chelh department is looking for ‘Christmas Elves’ and sponsors to help fulfill the wants and needs of Tulalip’s foster care kids during the holiday season. People can get involved and impact the kid’s lives by changing their Christmas mornings.

Each kid receiving these gifts is a Tulalip tribal member and part of the placement home foster care system that beda?chelh has set in place. Currently, around 150 children between newborn and 18 are on the list to receive gifts, and only about 50% of the kids have received sponsorship so far. Beda?chelh hopes to fulfill every item on each child’s list and will continue accepting donations until they do.

Each child can add whatever they want to their list, giving sponsors context of what to shop for. With the encouragement of Placement Specialist Tea Marquez, she tells the kids to ‘aim high and shoot for the stars.’ The lists are also reviewed with their Placement Specialist to add any items they feel the child needs and edit any requests based on the safety and well-being of the child. Some lists include essential items like diapers, clothes, and gear for young babies. For a little older children, their lists could request toys, school supplies, or new shoes. And for a child about to age out of foster care and preparing for college, it could be items like a new laptop, cell phone, or tv. Every child’s needs are different, but the possibilities are endless with various donations and sponsorships.

Currently, beda?chelh is fortunate enough to maintain large donors like Nike, Under Armour, Tulalip Resort Casino, the Arlington Lifeway Church, and others. These donors help support some of the more costly and name-brand items on the kids’ lists. But as Tea said, they are looking for anyone to help sponsor at any dollar amount. Tea explained that every donation is appreciated, no matter how high or low.  

Beyond reaching out to their re-occurring sponsors, beda?chelh is also looking for more Natives and sponsors within the community to get involved. “To know that your community is helping one another and supporting our youth that needs it, says a lot about the community. Some of these kids feel like their community has turned its back on them, and it would make such a difference knowing that tribal members are willing to step up and help them in these ways,” Tea said.

The department is also planning a Christmas Party for the kids to gather together, receive their gifts, and spend time on tribal land with other tribal children. Because of the confidentiality of the beda?chelh department, the party will not be open to the public. The party will still consist of plenty of cultural activities to maintain each child’s connection to the community and our people.

“The party is an added bonus for [foster] families. We know it’s hard for some of these kids to be away from their families or parents, and we know we can’t make up for that time. But we are doing our best, doing what we can to make sure they feel loved and supported and giving them a great holiday experience,” Tea explained.

In many ways, providing a holiday experience is one of the reasons that the beda?chelh department differs from state-sourced foster care systems. Beyond providing placement homes for the children, beda?chelh strives to keep tribal youth involved in cultural activities, engage with other tribal youth, and offer childhood experiences that every child should have.

“I’m excited to get our families engaged and have everyone interact with the other families and staff. I love that we can put a smile on their faces. We always try to stretch our funds to the max so we can make the most out of experiences like the Christmas party, the best. We want them to have the fun and exciting experiences that the holidays bring,” Tea explained.

Children who cannot attend the Christmas party or pick up their gifts will still be able to receive them in the mail.

Even when every sponsor spot is filled and the holiday season is over, beda?chelh will continue to accept donations. Anyone wanting to get involved can give a monetary donation or donate gifts like clothes, school supplies, toiletry items, and toys. Beda?chelh requires any donated physical items to be new, with tags, and unopened. Beda?chelh is also still looking for more respite care and placement home volunteers.

If you or someone you know would like to get involved or help donate to tribal youth, don’t hesitate to contact Tea Marquez at 360-716-4047 for the remaining list of children.