Thanksgiving 2021 is nearly here! Across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the country, people will gather with beloved friends and family to share a meal and express gratitude for all manner of blessings and boons—including HopeWell and the many families who are caring for and supporting our youth experiencing foster care; our shared living providers and their housemates who live with developmental disabilities, young adults in our My First Place™ program, residents of our community homes and staffed apartments for adults living with intellectual disabilities, and HopeWell staff members, volunteers, and supporters.
Today and every day, HopeWell is thankful for the many people who have supported our mission to enrich the lives and expand the opportunities of individuals and families in need of love, support, and safe places to grow and thrive. They have made it possible for us to provide high quality care for children, families, and adults with disabilities for more than 50 years. We are particularly grateful this year to several generous donors who are supporting our first-ever Gift of Hope Matching Gift Challenge. The funds raised from this campaign will support the transformative work we do with youth, adults and families.
While we celebrate such gifts, we are mindful, however, that Thanksgiving and the extended holiday season is a difficult time for many of the individuals we serve. This is particularly true for children living in foster care.
As foster parenting expert Dr. John DeGarmo, Ed.D, has written, “Like so many children in foster care, they want to go home, to live with their family members, despite the abuse and trauma they may have suffered from them, and despite all that you can and do offer and provide for [them]. Therefore, this time of holiday joy is especially difficult.”
Thanksgiving is understood as a time when families are supposed to be together, and children in foster care often experience feelings of loneliness, confusion, and sadness because they aren’t with their families. These feelings can be heightened for children who find themselves in the company of people they don’t know well and who may have different holiday traditions and beliefs than they’re used to. Children living in foster care can also struggle with guilt for enjoying Thanksgiving with their foster family because they feel disloyal to their biological family.
As an organization that provides high-quality, therapeutic foster care, we work closely with our foster parents and the children in their care to prepare them for the holidays and work through any challenges that arise. We are thankful for the commitment, compassion, and skill of our foster parents and social workers and the work they do to ensure that children in foster care enjoy a positive, low-stress Thanksgiving.
Last, working to break down unjust barriers due to racism, ableism, homophobia, gender-based discrimination, and other prejudices is core to our mission. As such we also give thanks for our country’s evolving understanding of Thanksgiving and its history as it relates to Native Americans and Native Alaskans.
Native peoples have long observed Thanksgiving as a National Day of Mourning, for its heralding of the genocidal occupation and theft of their land by colonial settlers, and their subsequent systematic oppression, which has persisted throughout U.S. history. Meanwhile, in schools across the country—particularly Massachusetts, the site of the mythic “First Thanksgiving,”—non-native children learned a much different story about Native Americans and white settlers gathering for a friendly, welcoming meal.
Now, sites that long perpetuated that myth are working to tell a more honest story that incorporates Native perspectives. Plymouth Plantation—which recently changed its name to Plimouth Patuxet Museums to recognize that the area was known by the Pokanet people as Patuxet for thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived—has produced a new documentary “Behind the Holiday: The First Thanksgiving,” which features commentary from Native historians.
Likewise, in recent years, Old Sturbridge Village has incorporated Native history into its Thanksgiving programming, employing Native American historians to illuminate the multiple Thanksgivings-style celebrations tribes held after harvests throughout the year.
“Thanksgiving is the meal we aspire for other meals to resemble,” novelist Jonathan Safran Foer has said. At HopeWell, we are working toward a day when everyone can feel welcome, safe, and included at the table.