My 4-year-old was told not to say, 'Happy holidays.' Here's how I responded.

An innocent trip to the supermarket with my 4-year-old daughter showed me how strange this world has become.

It started with me playing the all-too-familiar role of "Shopping Cart Mutombo" (essentially swatting away all of the junk food she attempted to put inside the cart). Nothing unusual there.


Not in Dikembe Mutombo's house, kid. GIF from Geico.

Later on, we encountered a woman who stopped us to say how cute my daughter's "Frozen" T-shirt was. As we were about to part ways, I whispered to my kiddo to wish the lady happy holidays. Again, nothing odd there, right?

Well, not so much.

The woman smiled at my daughter and said,"Honey, your daddy should teach you to wish people a 'merry Christmas,' not happy holidays, OK?"

My little one quickly responded with a sheepish, "OK," and that was the end of our brief encounter.

What just happened? One second she's complimenting my kid's outfit, and before I knew it, she was telling me how to raise her. Needless to say, I was less than pleased.

Oh, no she didn't. GIF from "Friday."

I'm a Christian who celebrates Christmas, but I'm not buying this "War on Christmas" nonsense because it's a war that doesn't exist. I also fully reject the notion that my daughter should say "merry Christmas" to everyone she comes across.

When we got home, I gave my daughter three reasons why that lady was wrong in terms that even a 4-year-old can understand.

1. It's just silly.

I could start and end my rant with that, but since we're on the topic of silliness, let's push forward with a silly analogy that I shared with my daughter.

Let's say there is a fantastic buffet that offered the best mozzarella sticks in town. When it comes to dipping sauces, she's on Team Marinara all the way and — coincidentally — that was the only sauce this establishment had available.

Mmm ...mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce. A great combo. Photo via iStock.

Customers with diverse tastes start to visit the buffet, so the owners decided to do something about it. Instead of providing a "marinara" section, there is now a "sauce" section of the buffet where the marinara is in a container next to a container of ranch dressing and a container of some other secret dip that nobody is quite sure of.

So, here's the question I posed to my kid: "Would it upset you if all of the sauces were grouped together? Remember, you can still have your marinara sauce, but it will be placed with the other sauces."

Her response was a cautious, "No," assuming this was part of a trick question. I assured her it wasn't.

I know what she wouldn't do. She wouldn't throw a tantrum about how there's a "war on marinara sauce" and that we're becoming "too politically correct" by including other sauces that don't appeal to her.

Saying "happy holidays" isn't dissing Christmas any more than offering a bunch of sauce choices disses marinara.

2. The Christian population in America is dwindling, and we need to be inclusive of other religions.

Again, I'm a Christian, but we need to stop acting as if Christian celebrations and beliefs are all that should matter in America.

A whopping 70% of Americans claim Christianity as their faith, but that percentage dropped by approximately eight percentage points since 2007 according to the Pew Research Center.

Why does that matter? Because the number of non-Christians in America is growing. That means more Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and (gasp) Muslims are walking among us. While certain bombastic presidential candidates may not like some of that change, I personally think it's wonderful.


Another factor is millennials are less likely to be religious than any other group, although many of them identify as spiritual.

As this trend continues, fewer people are identifying with Christianity and more people are choosing other religions — and in some cases, no religion at all. Does it really make sense to wish everyone a "merry Christmas" if that's the case?

That's when I asked my daughter a second question. "If you were at a playground and only a select group of kids could play with the toys while the others were left out, do you think that would be fair?"

Again, my query was met with a simple "no," but I decided to follow up by asking why she felt that way. "Because everyone should have a toy to play with."

Right.

So if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Three Kings' Day, you have a right to have it recognized, even if it isn't by name. Happy holidays is a good way to do it.

3. Accept well wishes graciously.

I finally asked my daughter, "What do you say when people say nice things to you?"

You guessed it.

GIF from "The Office."

Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays are all pleasantries. There's nothing remotely hostile in those words. Sure, they may not be the words that some would choose to receive, but they're far from insults.

Can we please stop acting like it's some sort of attack on humanity? Because it's really not.

Final note to the lady at the supermarket: I'm going to teach my daughter to be inclusive and kind.

I understand where you're coming from. You really like marinara sauce and it's pretty much all you've eaten in your lifetime. Sometimes change can be hard. I get that (took me two years to wean myself off ranch).

But we shouldn't cling to our old habits just because we don't feel like changing. We need to make the most out of our time here and connect with the people we meet. That way, the mozzarella sticks will taste better for everyone.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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