Leila Fadel

On a recent night in Chicago, a Muslim preacher sits on the floor in the center of an ethnically mixed and mostly young group of men and women. Around him, a drum circle sings praises of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad.

Mint tea is served on gold trays. A man with a hipster beard circulates an incense burner. A musky, wood scent fills the air.

This was supposed to be the Ekblad family's first Christmas in their new home, a four-bedroom near a park in Ventura, Calif., that they stretched their budget to buy. Allie Ekblad, 32, says she was ready for the holiday: For once, she had finished Christmas shopping early for her husband, Matt, 2-year-old Jace and 8-month-old Ava.

"The one year I'm ahead of everything," she says, sighing. "I had everyone done, including the kids, stockings, the extended family. All done."

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Marquan Ellis was evicted from his home in Las Vegas, Nevada when he was 18.

His mother battled with a drug and gambling addiction while he stayed at his godmother's house. But he couldn't stay there forever.

He found his way to the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth where he enrolled in the independent living program.

At A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Lisa Rhodes fields calls at the front desk.

"Congratulations," she tells the caller and then offers the list of services — marriage by an Elvis impersonator, a ceremony in the gazebo or the chapels.