In Holiday Guide

This tree provides a holiday to hundreds of those who may not otherwise have one. (PHOTO: Young Milwaukee)

The gala that gives a holiday to those most in need

This Friday brings one of my favorite days of the year. It includes an amazing night filled with dresses, sparkly things, Champagne, three floors of partying, hundreds of my closest friends and a mountain of gifts under a Christmas tree.

This glitz-and-glamour-filled night is the Young Milwaukee Holiday Gala, which takes place this Friday, Dec. 8, at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The event sells out almost instantly; it was under an hour this year, and it's one of the highlights of the holiday season. I've attended since the very first year, and each year I've gotten more and more of my friends to attend, as well.

A great night, to be sure, but it means so much more than that fun-filled event. More than a night of fun dancing on the dance floor, more than the four (OK, maybe six) glasses of champagne, more than the fun party props and pictures that may come out of it. Maybe I'm the only selfish one looking in the mirror today. But maybe you are like me, and the unwrapped new gift you're supposed to bring and add to the pile under the tree is an afterthought.

It shouldn't be. That gift – actually it should be gifts – should be the most important thing about Friday night. You see, that gift gives a Milwaukee family in need the only Christmas they may have. That gift gives a little boy or girl a beacon of hope, a smile or even just something to say is actually theirs. The thousands of gifts collected Friday night will provide a neighbor with something they may never forget.

The Young Milwaukee Holiday Gala is put on by Young Milwaukee Charitable Organization – itself an amazing organization. It benefits the Journey House on the near South Side of Milwaukee. Established in 1969, Journey House is a community infrastructure that increases education, reduces unemployment and crime, strengthens families and revitalizes neighborhoods. It empowers families by working with our community to utilize a self-help philosophy.

Last year, I had the eye-opening opportunity to go help disperse gifts, build crafts and more at Journey House post gala-night. If seeing all the gifts under the tree at the gala brought a smile to my face, seeing the gifts distributed in person at the "Winter Wonderland" celebration was even better. I wanted to learn more about Journey House after that experience, and the difference Young Milwaukee Holiday Gala has made for them, so I reached out to speak with Dr. Michele Bria, CEO, and Cherise Myers, Director of Community Partnerships.

Dr. Bria shared that, prior to the involvement of Young Milwaukee, they had struggled around the holiday season. Part of this challenge was certainly around the growth of Journey House itself – where the list of hard-working but in-need families has rapidly grown.

The families that benefit from your gift under the tree on Friday night are hundreds of people that are engaged in Journey House. Cherise Meyers shared they believe education is a family journey. In fact, they serve over 6,300 people yearly. They may be in a workforce development program, teen development program or after-school sports program.

The holidays are a stressful time – for you and for me. Now imagine you are working two to three jobs, have a family to feed and may not even have electricity in your home. Journey House hopes to give these families the only Christmas they may have. They will make crafts and get a picture with Santa that would otherwise cost them $40 at the mall – and most may never get otherwise – along with a warm meal and so many hugs and smiles.

You can be a part of these hugs and smiles too. Donate your time, sign up to volunteer, help with an after-school sport or even just help make crafts with these families.

And if you are coming to the Young Milwaukee Holiday Gala on Friday night, you are going to help these families, as well. You are going to be a part of a solution instead of a problem. Your gifts are going to give these same families a holiday they may not otherwise have.

Your neighbors. Your city. Your people.

Go big. Make that gift count on Friday night.


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