By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – Single parents living at Warren Village will once again get to provide their children with presents at the annual Holiday Shop in December. It’s a local tradition that has been going on for more than three decades which showcases how the nonprofit helps families gain independence.

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Savannah Young-Norris (credit: CBS)

“When I was an individual, and just only had to worry about myself. I did very well,” said Savannah Young-Norris, a parent living at Warren Village.  “I had a job that I really loved and I made enough that I had Netflix at the end of the month, so I did okay.”

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(credit: Savannah Young-Norris)

Young-Norris graduated from college and began pursuing a career as an actress. But once she was pregnant and realized she would be on her own, she looked for help starting with housing resources.

“What we provide is really an opportunity and a platform for change,” said Ethan Hemming, president and CEO of Warren Village. “We focus on single parents who are at risk, who are seeking to improve the trajectory of their life.”

Hemming says the success of the organization, serving Denver for 45 years, is a two generation approach taking care of the parent and the child at the same time. Warren Village provides affordable housing, guidance for parents to pursue college or work, and childcare on site. Typically, a family will stay with them for two to three years.

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(credit: CBS)

Since its founding, the organization has helped 4,700 single mothers, fathers, and their children.

“It wasn’t just what’s our name and your income information,” said Young-Norris. “Tell us about your story. Tell us how you got here. Tell us what your passions are.”

She knew immediately she would need help on how to be a good parent and provide a safe home for her child. It was a role she wasn’t expecting and got in contact with Warren Village when she was six months pregnant.

“It became bigger than me, I needed help,” she said. “The way I was living my life may have been okay for me, but wasn’t the way I wanted to role model myself for my child.”

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(credit: Savannah Young-Norris)

Single parents often face scrutiny from others that can affect their ability to succeed as professionals and providers for their child. The Warren Methodist Church identified barriers for single mothers in the 1960s when it created the nonprofit.

“I think some of those barriers remain today so it continues to be our focus for change in Denver,” said Hemming.

Parents living at Warren Village say they know the image out there for single mothers and fathers. But they believe there is a universal understanding about putting children first that should unite all parents.

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(credit: CBS)

“They assume certain things about us and where we come from,” said Young-Norris. “Parenthood asks you to be a bigger person than you thought was possible.”

Young-Norris is studying to become a paramedic, she says the counselors at Warren Village help her to set ambitious but realistic goals for her family. Her son is now 14 months and she knows the life she is building for them is only possible because there is a safe and supportive place for her child when she is away.

“Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of parenthood,” she said.

For 31 years, families have enjoyed visiting the Holiday Shop each season to create a Christmas experience they may not otherwise be able to provide as a single parent. Colorado Gives Day is one way the nonprofit raises the money they need for this holiday tradition. This year it will be Dec. 15 at the Park Hill United Methodist Church. Parents pick presents for their children and with some help, those children also select gifts for their mom or dad.

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(credit: CBS)

“It really make a different at this time of year because the folks we serve are aspiring to change their lives,” said Hemming. “But they don’t have a lot of excess economic support and resources to be buying gifts.”

Not only does it provide presents for these families, it gives them the chance to create new memories together early in the lives of their children.

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“I’m really starting to appreciate the traditions that are important to me, the values that I have as a family,” said Young-Norris. “We have these ideas of what we would like the holiday season to look for our families and we just don’t have the means to make that possible.”

Warren Village can use the support of the community all year with donations as well as anyone looking to volunteer for the organization. You can learn more at www.warrenvillage.org.

“I am a person who’s child is my first priority, I think that makes me universal with all parents,” she said.

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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