Whether you are waiting for Santa, lighting the menorah or preparing for a Kwanzaa feast, the season of joy has arrived. No matter how you celebrate it, volunteers with local nonprofit organization Gap Ministries are asking that you help create a Holiday of Hope for foster children in group homes in Southern Arizona.

The organization’s Holiday of Hope Program seeks to raise at least $7,000 to provide $50 in gifts for each foster child this holiday season through the Second Annual Festival of Trees, which will be held in Oro Valley from Friday to Sunday.

“When people hear ‘group homes,’ they often think institutional, hospital-like quarters,” said Tiane Kennedy, the organization’s public relations director. “Our group homes are lovely, family-style homes in residential neighborhoods. Just because they are foster kids, they should not be treated any differently than our own kids.”

The organization is on a mission to positively impact one life at a time through community service. Last year, the organization provided foster care for 312 children ages newborn through young adults.

The children helped have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services due to abuse, neglect or unsafe circumstances. The typical length of stay for each is about two years.

Kennedy said the SPLASH — or Spirit Powered Love Aggressively Shaping Hearts — houses are built around the idea of family. Each “foster family” comprises a full-time houseparent couple and up to 10 foster children of varying ages.

One house is exclusively dedicated to teenage girls, while others accommodate groups of siblings, who can be difficult to place together.

“Lots of foster homes have only one open bed, and if CPS gets sibling groups of three or four brothers or sisters, we can put them in the same house so they don’t have to split up in different foster homes. It is much less stressful for the children,” Kennedy said.

A primary goal in SPLASH houses is to model a healthy family relationship, so that he children are exposed to a different family dynamic than many have experienced with their biological parents.

“These kids are not in the system because they have done something wrong,” Kennedy said. “They are normal kids, and many of their parents are dealing with addictions and have come from dysfunctional families.

“In our homes we try to model a good parent-family relationship, and even become a resource if the biological parents are open to it. We can spend time with them to help change the structure of their family.”

Life in SPLASH houses includes chores and responsibilities, as well as recreational activities.

Children are allowed to remain in SPLASH houses until age 21 if they are working at least 30 hours a week or attending college.

“This allows them to receive some assistance, rather than suddenly being thrust out on their own with no support. Last year we had six kids graduate from high school, and we have one at NAU and one at UA, which is awesome,” Kennedy said.

Gap also offers Building Overflow Out of Service Together, a community resource pantry that stores and distributes food and essential household products for 70 nonprofits throughout Southern Arizona.

“Last year we gave out over a million pounds of food to nonprofits,” Kennedy said.

The festival will feature sales of 24 specially decorated and themed Christmas trees.

Kennedy hopes the proceeds generated from selling them will help brighten the season for some area youths.

“We have so many really good kids who have had a rough start in life, and this really blesses them during the holidays,” Kennedy said.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net