Finding Comfort and Connection at the Winter Family Fest
The Winter Family Fest is an annual celebration hosted by C4’s Youth & Family Services, offering families a heartwarming opportunity to come together for a day of festive activities, community connections, and exchange gifts during the winter season.
This year, the event drew at least 40 families, totaling over 100 guests from start to finish, marking a significant increase from last year’s event. To accommodate the volume, staff used the entire North Avenue facility, turning larger offices into activity rooms and even setting up a table and chairs in the hallway at the last minute.
Community Based Clinical Supervisor Cinthia Lopez and Youth Outpatient Clinical Supervisor Taylor Sheridan took the lead on planning and executing the Winter Family Fest. It was a months-long process, they said, but it was well worth the effort.
“Parts of it were difficult, but we had a really good committee that planned what we would do if we ran out of supplies or if we ran out of space,” Lopez said. “Everybody at North Avenue pitched in.”
In addition to the festivities, Sheridan and Lopez planned for the distribution of gifts for youth clients and their families. In the past, clinicians would bring caregivers to stores to shop. This year, gifts purchased via individual contributions, ordered from our Amazon Wishlist by supporters, and donated by Toys for Tots were set up in an office, allowing “shopping” to take place on-site.
The free store model aimed to make gift selection process both dignified and efficient. Clinicians brought clients into the space privately to pick out items, which they could then give to their children at a time and in a manner of their choice.
“The way that advertising usually goes to raise funds for things is, ‘Look at these people, they’re not doing really well, and they really need your support,’” Lopez said. “People do need support and they do need access, but they’re also really resourceful, and they’re really skilled, and they want better for themselves and their families.”
The Winter Family Fest had two parts, the in-person celebration and a take-home component, the latter of which was also made available to families who could not attend the event. Both the in-person stations and take-home packages included a sensory activity, an art-based component, food for the family to share, and something to promote healthy communication within family systems.
At the event, clients and staff alike made stress balls, decorated cookies, played Family Jeopardy, and ate pizza. Take-home packages included some of the same craft supplies, hot cocoa mix, and activity packets with crossword puzzles and coloring pages, in both Spanish and English.
What made the Winter Family Fest special, Sheridan said, was clients, their families, and clinicians come together as a community to make the event possible. When the funnels staff ordered to make stress balls were too small to accommodate Orbeez – tiny plastic beads that expand into small, squishy orbs when soaked in water – a caregiver stepped up to help.
“The guardian of this system was laughing a little bit as we tried to problem solve, and they were like, ‘Do you have a funnel in your car?’ And all of us were like ‘No,’” Sheridan said. “This guardian is pretty quiet and reserved, and without anybody noticing, got into their car, got their funnel, and brought it back for us to use throughout the event.”
Another highlight was how relaxed families seemed during the event, Lopez added, particularly the parents.
“It was special to see a parent entirely and completely trust that their child was safe and C4. Kids were walking around, sometimes without parent supervision, because the parent or caregiver was doing an activity,” she said. “And they felt like it was a safe space. I was just thinking, what other spaces in the community do they feel that way? Maybe there’s not a ton. I’m glad that C4 can be that.”
Throughout the year, C4 organizes enriching events that bring clients, families, and community members together. To learn more or contribute to our causes visit our website at www.c4chicago.org/support-c4.