The holidays tend to be a special time for many people. Even during the coldest days, there is warmth in the air shared by those who celebrate the season. At Heartland Alliance, we treat this time of year a bit differently by working even harder to achieve Equity and Opportunity for All. And no one experiences this as closely as our participants and supporters and for some, this may be the first time in many years they’re spending the holidays together. For the Deleon family, this year is extra special.
They have recently been reunited through Heartland Alliance’s Freedom From Trafficking program after 10 long years of separation – just in time for the holidays. “Christmas and New Year’s is a very special time in the Philippines. When I was home, our family would really celebrate. Christmas wasn’t just about the gifts or what you got, it was about celebrating with community and others,” said Jonathan Deleon, Heartland Alliance participant.
For the better part of a decade, Jonathan was subject to working for unethical hospitality employers. Underpaid, scammed into unfair housing practices, and forced to work with the threat of losing his visa, Jonathan’s life with his family was put on hold indefinitely. “For 10 years, I worked through the holidays. To survive, I had to put that away in my mind. This year, I’m going to make it really special.”
After working with Heartland Alliance’s Freedom From Trafficking team, Jonathan welcomed his wife and son to their new home, which is made possible through his new job that pays a living wage. His new friends and partners at Heartland Alliance are making sure they don’t celebrate the holidays empty-handed.
As part of Heartland Alliance’s Adopt-A-Family gifting program, employees from one of our corporate sponsors, Payline Data, are helping with the celebration. The Payline team was happy to purchase gifts for the newly reunited family including items such as gym shoes, coats, school supplies, and much-needed kitchenware.
“You know, we all get up and go to our jobs every day and come home, but when you can do something that impacts others, you just kind of feel better about yourself and knowing that you are helping other people and that you have a bigger purpose in the world,” said Jess Piper, Payline Data’s Community Impact representative.
That sense of purpose is contagious. The Payline team quickly rallied to spend that extra holiday-shopping on others in need. They also came together to wrap gifts, ensuring that every wish list item was purchased. Some of the items were ordered from Amazon Smile, which donates a fraction of each purchase back to Heartland Alliance.
Not only are the Deleon’s are thrilled to be together this Christmas, they also were pleasantly surprised to receive some unexpected gifts from Heartland Alliance and Payline Data. “One day, my case manager asked me what size clothes my wife and son wear. It was quite the surprise to hear that we were going to receive gifts for Christmas – just a few weeks after my family was reunited with me.”
Jonathan is a man of empathy – a man strong enough to understand his own emotions and the feelings of others. He doesn’t expect to receive beyond what he earns, and his goals are often in line with the idea that to give is to get. “This holiday is not about yourself. It’s about giving of yourself. I know what it’s like to be on both sides of that table now.” Mary, Jonathan’s wife, agrees. “Back home for Christmas, we give. You have to help other people.”
Today, in their new home in Chicago, Jonathan and his family can be those who receive – at least for this one, special Christmas. This year, after working so hard for so long, it is time for Jonathan, Mary, and their son to have a chance to simply be happy together and embrace the special holiday feeling that makes us all give of ourselves. “This year is like Santa Clause has come to me – in many different ways. When I’m down, I know there is hope – and I hope to give back again soon.”