As high school students opened gifts Thursday afternoon at First Christian Church in Oklahoma City, it looked like Christmas came early. But that couldn't be further from the truth for at least one teenager in the group.
Tyler is 18 years old. Thursday marked the first time he experienced the joy of unwrapping a holiday present.
“Before this one, I never had a Christmas,” Tyler said. “My mother was always trying to pay the bills. ... There was never any Christmas dinner or Christmas gifts under the tree.”
Tyler, a Douglass High School student, is one of about 28 teenagers in the Supporting Kids in Independent Living program run by Youth Services for Oklahoma County. Its aim is to provide support to high school students who live on their own, by no fault of their own.
The independent living program's clients gathered Thursday for its annual Christmas party celebration. Each student was given a 50-gallon tub filled to the brim with wrapped gifts — a combination of want and necessity. Laundry detergent was paired with video games, and dishware with Thunder apparel.
Debra Forshee is the president and CEO of the county youth agency. She's witnessed the varied reactions of the independent living clients in the Christmas party over the years. Many shed tears of joy as they rip into the wrapping paper for the first time. One former member held off the urge, choosing to wait until Christmas morning to unwrap presents.
“That just made me cry,” Forshee said. “It's really an amazing thing to watch.”
The gifts are purchased through donations to another county youth services program, the Teen Service Board. The board consists of teenage volunteers from county high schools and students like Alex Schaffer, a junior at Classen School of Advanced Studies.