These past several weeks, we at Yellow Parachute have been thinking deeply the big themes of the holiday season: family values, gratitude, giving, gifts, and slowing down to reflect on it all. We’ve tried to be mindful of ourselves within the context of our family. In this way, we’ve begun to think about another foundation of this season: community. But beyond the community of our own families, we live within many others: our friends, coworkers, neighbors, church, to name a few. We also live near many other communities of which we aren’t necessarily a part.

People in these communities are as worthy of care as our next door neighbor; some communities, too, have a greater need and have less of the privileges that we do. How can we work to care for people in those communities as well? And when we do, how does that care expand the meaning of those themes of gifts, giving, gratitude, and family values? To think more about those questions, we talked to Yellow Parachute’s own Christine Patka about her family’s incredible work with the program Together for Good.

Together for Good is a Christian organization in St. Paul, whose mission is to assist mothers in crisis. They support these mothers—who may be facing homelessness, mental health issues, or other crises—and provide their children with safe, temporary housing with a host family while they work toward a more stable situation. They also help foster relationships for those mothers, who are often without the kinds of support systems we take for granted. This work strives to prevent child abuse and neglect, which is Together for Good’s purpose.

Even though the Patkas have been a host family for many years, it wasn’t an easy decision for their family. They already have three children, and like everybody else, life was already pretty busy. “My husband,” Christine said, “was kind of like: ‘We’re good!’”

But her family continued to feel a calling for this kind of work. “We love children,” she said. “Also, our hearts break for those that don’t get to experience a safe and loving home. And we just feel really blessed to have that, and we just decided as a family that’s something we wanted to share with others.”

Hosting’s primary purpose has been to support others, but Christine has also noticed a remarkable transformation in her own family. “It has elevated the gifts of all the members of our family. If you ask any one of our kids if this has been a good thing for us—if we should continue—they absolutely one hundred percent will say that our family’s better when we’re serving in this way.” Christine thinks that this work reminds her kids that there’s more in the world than their immediate community, and that their giving can make an actual difference in that larger world.

Christine told me about her youngest, who’s eleven. It can be hard to be the youngest in any family, especially to find something that’s really your thing—that lets you out of the shadows of your older siblings. Her youngest found that being a host big brother was his thing. Although he is hilarious and compassionate at heart, it can be difficult for him to let those qualities out. But when he is able to see himself in service to these little ones in need, he lets those innate qualities shine. As Christine’s husband Chris said, “It brings out the best in our family.”

Beyond their family, Christine’s noticed that their work has also brought out the best in their extended family and their friends—in other words, their larger communities. When these vulnerable families become just that much more tangible, people’s hearts just open up. People have provided meals, diapers, wipes, and more; they’ve asked for other ways they can help the mom, like how they can help her move into a new home; they’ve still not met the mom, but their hearts are open.

The Patkas embody what it means to live in accordance with your values, to give to others, and to recognize with gratitude how this service has given you gifts in return. Together for Good is always looking for more host families and other forms of support. If you’re interested in learning more, talk to a host family or consider attending one of Together for Good’s info sessions.

This week, we’ll be slowing down to reflect on the ways we can best give back. As Christine’s daughter so eloquently said, this work “draws us closer together and reminds us that the world is something bigger than ourselves. We are called by God to be faithful stewards who take care of his creation, which includes taking care of each other and those in need.”

Happy Holidays,

Yellow Parachute