By: Billy Nicola
Needless to say, the holidays are a special time of year. Usually this time is spent with close friends and family. Aspiro recognizes that it’s a very tough decision to love your child enough to decide to place him in a program away from home, and that this decision can be even more difficult when your child is continuing to receive help over the holidays. As emotional as it is for parents to care from a distance, it likely is even more challenging for your child to be away from her home and family during this season. As a result, we intentionally and sincerely strive to make the holidays at Aspiro as fun, loving, happy, and memorable as possible.
The first and perhaps the easiest way we make this time of year special is simply with food. Usually the holidays make stomachs grumble as thoughts of delicious homemade meals and sweet treats flood the mind and the taste buds. Most people are surprised but with just fire, some aluminum foil, and a cast iron pot Aspiro can make a delicious feast that can easily compete with grandma’s traditional recipes.
For Thanksgiving in November we buy a raw turkey from the grocery store just like you would at home. The only difference is that we skewer it with a large stick that’s pounded into the ground, and then place a metal bucket over it with some hot coals. This makes a wilderness oven that in just a few hours produces a delicious, juicy cooked-to-perfection turkey. In addition to all the white and dark meat anyone could ask for, the students are provided with ingredients for making pumpkin pie, traditional cranberry sauce, rolls, stuffing, and salad. Just like home, usually everyone eats a little too much and gets to help the digestion process with some evening relaxation.
A similar meal is celebrated in December, although the menu changes a bit to include dishes like honey glazed ham, macaroni and cheese, and baked potatoes. On top of creating full stomachs, every student is involved with helping to cook these meals family style, where the sense of camaraderie and togetherness fills the emotional need of being with familiar loved ones. Often individual traditions and stories of past holidays are shared amongst the group, which brings feelings of reminiscence, appreciation, and love.
While we strive to make these days special and fun, we still do not forget our original goal and the reason that we are entrusted with the care of your sons and daughters. In addition to forming a family on trail and creating unique memories, we continue to have a very specific purpose in mind. We still complete weekly itineraries yet structure them in a way that is both impactful and hopefully enjoyable. We intentionally design these weeks around the weather and schedule the holiday times in our warmer temperature operating areas. It’s truly amazing the positive atmosphere that a little bit of sunshine can bring. Additionally we specifically plan these weeks to focus on what most students consider the really fun activities. Rock climbing and wearing a t-shirt in December is pretty cool, as well as hiking through a national park that is occupied by almost no one else.
Christmas Eve on trail is not only a day of celebratory eating, but also of festive activities. All the groups camp in a national park that has the luxury of running water. It seems trivial, but something as simple as flushing toilets really can mean a lot. With meaningfulness in mind, the holiday shouldn’t be celebrated without a Christmas tree. It’s one thing to bring a real tree into your house and cover it with tinsel and glass bulbs. It’s a whole other thing to decorate a tree still growing out of the ground with ornaments and battery operated lights, as the desert red rocks and snowcapped mountains backdrop further enhance the beauty of scene. Sleeping bags and pads are then laid out around the tree in what naturally forms the shape of a star, with every student’s head at the center.
As your child wakes up on Christmas morning expecting another day at Aspiro she quickly becomes delighted when she sees a tree that has long since lost its leaves. However what decorates the branches now are red, green, and blue stockings with a little frost on them, overflowing as they hang from notches on this natural mantelpiece. The stockings are filled with candy, games, toys, and most importantly letters. The buzzing excitement quickly fades to a calmed silence as your child begins reading heartfelt letters from you, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers, and neighbors. These letters, cards, and pictures are his direct connection to those at home on a day where being in Utah means much more than a four hour plane ride away. These are the true gifts, often read multiple times in a day, and they are cherished.
There is absolutely no doubt that having your son or daughter at Aspiro during the holidays is difficult, even painful. Our hope and desire though, is that by allowing us to experience this season with your child for one year, you will then be able to share all of the holidays with them thereafter in a more meaningful, heartfelt, and loving way than ever before.