Teenage boys, homeless or not, are not going to ask you to buy them underwear.
Unless the need is really acute, they're just not going to do it, said Laurie Maddock, a coordinator at Tumbleweed, the outreach center for homeless teens in Billings.
Still, for those kids most at risk, the need is there. And Maddock said it can be addressed. That's part of the reason, for a second year, parents, school counselors and Tumbleweed staff are holding a gift card drive for needy students at Senior High.
“They don't have a lot of expectations as far as Christmas goes,” Maddock said.
These students, many of them homeless, have been in and out of the foster system, have parents who are in jail or simply live in homes where parents can't afford to do Christmas, Maddock said. They lack basic necessities.
The gift card drive asks the community to donate money or gift cards to Senior High for those students.
In fact, most of the cards given out last year were for grocery stores — places were students could buy food and personal hygiene products, said Patty Fain, one of the drive's organizers.
“They were very popular, very well received,” she said.
The need is real.
At some point during the last school year, 130 high schoolers were homeless in Billings School District 2. That number has steadily grown over the past decade. The drive has focused on Senior High because the majority of students there qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.
Last year, the drive raised more than $7,000 worth of gift cards.
Organizers hope to do better this year. Jennifer Gress-Jurak hopes to help.
“It just sounded like the most important fund or charity I could support this year,” she said.
Gress-Jurak was raised in a poor home — her mother was 16 when she gave birth to Jennifer. Gress-Jurak grew up in Crow Agency and was working full-time at 14, playing basketball and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.
From there her life began to fall apart. She starting using drugs and getting in trouble, eventually landing in jail. At 30, she's clean and spends her time visiting reservation schools, teaching students about the dangers of drugs and showing them that it's possible to find success in life even if circumstances appear bad.
“When people see you helping yourself, they're willing to help you,” she said.
She sees herself in many of the at-risk students at Senior and knows that with a little help they can push on to a better life.
Both Maddock and Fain said the community push behind the gift card drive last year almost had as big of an impact on the students as the cards themselves.
“It gave kids a sense that people cared about them and I think that's just as valuable,” Fain said.
“It really helps connect these kids to the community,” Maddock said.
Gress-Jurak will be holding an open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at the Mary Kay Center in Billings to raise funds for the gift cards. She'll sell the Mary Kay cosmetics at a 25 percent discount and then donate 25 percent of her proceeds to the gift card drive.
Maddock is grateful for the help. Teenagers are often forgotten this time of year as people focus on the needs of younger children.
“They love to help little kids,” she said.
So Maddock praised Fain for the work she's done drawing attention to the needs of the teenagers with the gift card drive.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1231.