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Holidays with the Holidays

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How Executive Director of the Atlanta Children’s Shelter Keeps Her Family Grounded in Gratitude and How You Can Too

By Britney Hardweare

 

“Loving chaos!” That’s how Sandra Holiday described the holidays with her interracial, blended family of six plus the 40 families that ACS currently hosts. “I think of them as my extended family,” she told Hers magazine. Holiday went on to paint a cheerful picture of her young sons, heading the ACS Christmas pajama party where all of the kids come dressed in new pajamas provided by the shelter to watch Christmas-themed movies in celebration of Winter Break.

As executive director, Holiday has been spreading cheer at ACS since 2010 after leaving a 15-year career as a lobbyist in the Georgia House and Senate. When she began doing advocacy work with the Georgia Department of Human Services for at-risk families, Holiday crossed paths with ACS and she has never looked back.

Now as a wife and mother of four, she finds it crucial to include her family in her work; it helps them understand her busy schedule and instills values that keep the family grounded. Holiday started at an early age with her 6 and 8-year-old sons, stressing compassion by taking the boys to play with the kids at the shelter.

“They didn’t know the kids were homeless; they just knew they liked to play with dinosaurs and Transformers.  Later on, when they figured out that they were homeless, they couldn’t believe it,” Holiday said. Holiday credits these experiences with teaching the boys to “never judge anyone because you never know.” She also stresses to her boys the importance of valuing people more than material things by making them donate their “most prized” toys to the children at ACS.

Instilling important values in her 12-and-14-year-old step-daughters, Holiday puts them to work, answering phones, helping with the kids and talking with parents at the shelter. The girls and Holiday’s husband also had a personal experience with homelessness. Before blending their families, Holiday’s husband and daughters had been living out of their car. She credits the car as a tool that helped her husband and stepdaughters stay together, giving them shelter and a means of transportation at that time. Now, Holiday’s husband owns an automotive shop. Even though he hasn’t visited the shelter yet due to the emotional toll, he is working to help in a different way. He and Sandra are striving to donate cars to a few homeless families in the future, paying it forward.




 

Holiday has already seen ACS make strides in efforts to pay it forward. When asked to describe her most rewarding moment at the shelter, she recalled the daily victories of seeing families move toward a life of prosperity. “At ACS, we have a bell at the entrance…Anytime one of the parents gets a job, they ring the bell,” Holiday said, “No matter what I’m doing — if I’m in my office or in the bathroom — when they ring the bell, I shout for joy with them because I know that the family is one step forward from homelessness.”

As the holidays approach, Holiday wants to continue celebrating these victories and helping the families achieve stability, but it proves to be challenging at times. “Our greatest need is financial, of course,” Holiday adds. ACS is one of the few non-profits in Atlanta that does not charge their clients for their services, such as education, childcare, medical, job training and counseling. Providing these services for free costs the shelter $1.5 million annually, funds that become harder to raise year after year.

In order to keep the shelter running, Holiday asked that people donate whatever they can. “We also need people to donate time,” Holiday said. She expressed a need for individuals who are willing to read to the children, host mock interviews and financial planning classes for parents looking for work and advisement. Holiday stresses that women are the key to helping curb homelessness in the community: “Women have been the loudest in championing major social issues. We need women to be champions for the needy as well… Women move mountains.”

 

If you would like to help move mountains at ACS, visit http://www.acsatl.org/giving.html or http://www.acsatl.org/volunteer.html to donate or volunteer.

 

Watch a video from the Kickin’ It 4 Charity Celebrity Kickball Game organized to raise funds.

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