It was 1994, and I was watching TV while my mom was making dinner. I heard a news story about a shelter that had been robbed the day before their holiday party, and all the gifts for their residents were stolen. I was devastated. How can you steal from children living in a homeless shelter? My mom saw how upset I was and I have to say, if it wasn’t for my mom’s response to me in that moment, the story would end there. Instead of her saying “Oh, isn’t that sad? What a shame,” she said “Well, what do you want to do about it?”
I decided to use my allowance to buy gifts for the shelter to try and replace what had been stolen. The next year, my bat mitzvah was in October and my parents gave me $400 to use however I wanted. I told them I wanted to throw my own holiday party because I knew if it was my party the gifts wouldn’t be stolen and the kids would receive them.
My mom called Jewish Family & Career Services and we planned a party for 25 children with gifts, crafts, food, and a few of my friends and family members. That was the first Amy’s Holiday Party!
The feeling we got from seeing the happiness on these children’s faces made me want to keep doing this each year – so we did! Each year, my friends, family and community became more involved in this project. And each year more shelters and agencies contacted us about inviting their families. During college, I flew home each December to help throw the party that my family and our community made sure continued in my absence.
When I returned from school and started teaching, I began to see the potential of what we had created. There were so many teens looking for meaningful and direct outreach opportunities and so many communities in need looking for services. So, building on the success of the party, we founded Creating Connected Communities (CCC) in 2010.
As a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit, our goals were simple: engage teens in volunteering, instilling the same lessons that were so valuable to me and my friends as teens, and serve more children and families in need other than just at the holiday party.
Using my new skillset and passion for education, I started writing a curriculum for a Leadership Development Program that would teach other Jewish teens what I had learned over the years. And specifically, that you don’t have to be a certain age or have a certain level of experience to make an impact. You don’t even need that much money to get started. All you have to do is be passionate, hardworking, and care.
We hosted our first additional community-building program, Fall Festival, serving children who didn’t get to experience Halloween trick or treating due to neighborhood safety concerns. From there, CCC’s work in the community has only continued to grow year after year. Our relationships with our community partners has only strengthened and improved as we work together to meet the needs of children and families all over Atlanta by empowering hundreds of Jewish teens to become true community leaders.
When I think about where we’ve come from, those first holiday parties created by a small, grassroots group of volunteers, and how we’ve grown into this thriving organization with a dedicated professional staff of 7 and an amazing Board of Directors committed to its success, I’m both humbled and so very proud.
I am so honored to be doing this work in our community. I am constantly blown away by the capacity of our teens, staff, volunteers, donors, sponsors – the entire CCC community – to rise to each new opportunity to make a difference. Thank you for being a part of our story!
Amy Zeide, Founder
Amy’s Holiday Party 2010
One of the earliest sessions of CCC’s Leadership Development Program, facilitated by Amy in 2011.
Learn more about our history through this video, created as part of our celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Amy’s Holiday Party in 2019.