Youth Villages Holiday Heroes


Jesse, Linzie, Bentley & Ray Mullins
Photo by Josie Wallace Photography

Youth Villages Holiday Heroes

By Lesley Harris Colvett
Photos courtesy of Youth Villages

Anyone can be a Holiday Hero and be the “reason for the season.” For more than 20 years, Youth Villages’ Holiday Heroes program has spread joy by providing cheer and gifts during the holidays to children, youth and families in the nonprofit’s care.

Fifteen-year-old Jesse has enjoyed first-hand the heartwarming experience of receiving from a Holiday Hero, and Jesse has now become a Holiday Hero himself! Jesse was a residential youth at one of Youth Villages’ campuses, and in 2020, the Mullins family in Memphis fostered and adopted him. Linzie and Ray Mullins were drawn to the idea of fostering and adopting in late 2019, after being married for 10 years. “My husband and I are both teachers in public schools, and we see the need every day. In our faith, we felt the pull and the call from God to open our home to children that would not be biologically ours,” Linzie said.

It was almost divine intervention how the Mullins became Jesse’s parents. Linzie had seen Jesse’s profile online and showed her husband, strongly feeling like he could be “the one.” Then about six months later, Linzie’s good friend who taught at Youth Villages mentioned to her about one of her students who was ready for a home. Her friend thought he would be a good fit for them. Lo and behold, it was the same boy Linzie had seen online, Jesse! Just like that it all fell into place for the Mullins to go forward with fostering and adopting Jesse.

The adoption process began in March 2020, during the onset of the Covid pandemic. Jesse moved in with the Mullins August 2020, and he was officially adopted by Linzie and Ray November 2021. The Mullins family quickly grew as five months later Bentley, another Youth Villages child resident, moved in and was adopted six months after that.

“When Jesse moved in with us, he brought with him a lot of toys and I was like, ‘Jesse, where are all these toys from?’” Linzie recalls. “He had race cars, several nice art sets, and basketballs. Jesse said they were from Holiday Heroes, and that every Christmas he was living at a Youth Villages campus, a Holiday Hero would sponsor a child. The kids truly felt the joy and cheer of the holiday season when they would get to open the presents that were bought specifically for them by a Holiday Hero,” Linzie says.

“Holiday Heroes brought happiness and joy to us at Youth Villages during the holidays. We would go to the gym where there were a lot of decorations, food, fake snow on the floor and Santa. And we would then get a big bag of presents,” Jesse said.

The joyful and giving spirit continues for Jesse as he and the Mullins are Holiday Heroes. Since being adopted, Jesse has continued the tradition, sponsoring one or two children as a Holiday Hero. “Christmas is hard for kids in foster care and adoption because it brings up past trauma and holes in your heart that are opened up a little bit during the holidays. Having someone else do the shopping for you and make the child feel special is so wonderful and gives relief for the foster families. We are really thankful for being recipients, but also to be able to give in the Holiday Heroes program.” Linzie said.

Linzie serves as a mentor for foster parents at Youth Villages and stays in contact with many foster parents to offer support and encouragement for potential families. Linzie says all you need is room and love, and the agency will match you with a good fit.

Anyone can become a Holiday Hero and give joy to the kids at Youth Villages! Donations to the campaign can be made at any time throughout the year; however, the primary part of the campaign is November and December.

Here is how you can help:
• Donate at:
• Supporters can either choose to buy gifts for a child or a family (all siblings).
• $150 to cover the wishes of one child.
• Supporters can either shop for the child, youth or family or make donations and have Youth Villages shop for the gifts.

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