Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Editor’s note: This column was scheduled to appear on Thanksgiving Day, but technical issues delayed publication.

Traditionally, my Thanksgiving column is based on the things for which our peer educators are grateful. As I prepared this column, I realized I have never written a piece on my own gratitude. It may sound strange, but I am especially grateful this year. I share because, during this challenging time when holidays are complicated, I want to underscore gratitude. I also want to encourage us all to reach out to those for whom holidays and life are challenging right now.

Here are my Top Five Reasons for gratitude:

My family: La mia famiglia – my family – is always first in my heart. My partner, our adult children and their partners, and our grandbabies give me so much joy, my cup runneth over. I am grateful.

During my gratitude, I send support to those who want a family, who struggle with infertility, who feel loneliness, who deal with the pain of losses on holidays, and who are estranged from family. May you create your own kin.

The young people I serve: These fine humans fuel my spirit. They are wise, feisty, intelligent, funny, flexible, unpredictable, creative, loyal, stubborn, and my favorite people with whom to spend time. I am grateful.

I acknowledge how challenging this season is for many of the young people I serve. I respond in this column to only 5% of the texts and emails I receive, but to 100% directly. Their voices tell me to be concerned about mental health. If there is a young person in your life, please reach out.

My parents: Anyone who knows me will react with a “yes, of course” to this reason for gratitude. My papa and mama were my first and best teachers, gave me my faith, empowered me with self-worth, and gave me a foundation of respect. I am grateful.

I have served many young people who received pain and hurt from the families to which they were born. One does not choose one’s parents. I know hundreds of young people who made a choice to be motivated for change and follow their dreams. I am grateful for those brave young people.

My team: I am blessed with a team of employees who prioritize the young people they serve, live my philosophy of #EachPersonIsAPersonofWorth, and support one another. I am grateful.

Not everyone is employed or working at jobs that bring them joy. When life brings challenges, feeling sad or angry are normal emotions. We can all learn from failure. The lesson is in getting back up.

Life: As a death doula, a hospice nurse, and a pediatric oncology nurse, I learned to not take life for granted. Since 1973, when I worked at a hospital where an average of 10 children died each week, I have been aware of my mortality. I am grateful for the researchers who discovered the chemo I needed and the clinicians whose skills made it possible for me to receive it. I am grateful.

We play a card game at the Outreach called the Game of Life. My team and I created it on a snow day 15 years ago. It calls out the challenges we face in life and teaches ways to cope. One message is clear – we need to play the cards the way they are dealt!

Finally, I would like to share a comment made by one of the 12-year-olds our peer educators taught during our Virtual Summer Camps. This excellent young person is one of many from the camps who remain virtually connected to our Common Ground Teen Center. She seldom misses a peer educator meeting. When our teens were discussing coping with COVID, one of our peer educator facilitators asked the group what they had lost due to COVID. This 12-year-old said, “I know it’s been hard, but if COVID hadn’t happened, I never would have met all of you. I’m glad about that.”

If we look for gratitude, we will find it. May you have many reasons to be grateful.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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