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SALT LAKE CITY — For most people, Christmas wishes are about things that can be bought in stores. For a few young women in state care, however, Christmas this year is about feeling loved.
Six girls from the Girls Group Home experienced a day in a spa and a "touch of New York" on Wednesday. The Girls Group Home was created by Salt Lake County Youth Services to provide shelter for youth ages 12 to 17 who are taken into state custody for alleged abuse and neglect.
Tammy Barreca Will is from New York and said that after she fell in love with the Utah mountains, she moved to South Jordan, where she owns A Touch of New York Salon & Spa.
Will and her staff treated the six girls to a full spa day. Some had their hair done professionally for the first time while others had their nails done for the first time.
Most of the girls have been removed from their homes or familiar places for their own protection.
"One of the Salt Lake County Youth Services' main goals is to make them feel safe and to provide them with the opportunity to have the most normal life possible," said Mike Varanakis, public relations coordinator for Salt Lake County Youth Services. "They get here without knowing what's next, they don't know where they're going, they're afraid, you can see they are sad, and we want them to trust us, to feel safe. We want them to feel special."
It was one of the best experiences of my life. Talking to them and having them around here was priceless. They are all so young and beautiful. They are dolls. Getting a hug from each of them was the best payment I've ever got for what I do.
–Tammy Barreca Will
Will said she understands their feelings because her life hasn't always been easy and she wanted to share what she knows how to do best — helping them feel loved and beautiful.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," Will said. "Talking to them and having them around here was priceless. They are all so young and beautiful. They are dolls. Getting a hug from each of them was the best payment I've ever got for what I do."
Salt Lake County Youth Services depends on volunteers to meet the needs of its programs. The volunteers help the full-time and part-time staff create a safe space that feels like home.
"We have volunteers who come and share time," Varanakis said. "They help the children with their homework, they plan activities, they take them to places, they help them have a normal life — something that they greatly need. Without the community's help, it would be a lot harder."
To volunteer and learn more about Salt Lake County Youth Services, visit slco.org.