Helen’s Hope Chest

"Helen’s Hope Chest collects and distributes clothing and other necessities for foster children."

Two valley nonprofits are teaming up with the Arizona Department of Child Safety to boost adoption chances for children in foster care. 

Helen’s Hope Chest — a Mesa-based organization that gives clothing, personal products and school supplies to foster kids every month, and the Johnjay and Rich #LoveUp Foundation — another movement that assists with similar activities and donations, are sponsoring events to connect foster youth with “forever families.” 

The two organizations will aid DCS with their Children’s Heart Gallery, a website showing pictures and biographies of children ready for adoption.

“It’s important for us to find permanent homes for these children,” said Gillian Vanasse, DCS program administrator for foster care and post permanency supports. “We want, whenever possible, for children to have a family-like setting and find permanency through foster care.”

“This is a recruitment tool to help give exposure to these children so that they can find a family to help meet their needs well beyond 18,” she continued.

The gallery aims to inspire potential parents to pursue the adoption process. 

For the past five years, #LoveUp has helped fund and coordinate the photo shoots, rallying volunteers, professional hair stylists and photographers to help. 

Helen’s Hope has been distributing free clothes and personal needs to foster families since the financial crisis of 2009, is now hopping onboard and will provide two new outfits for each child to wear during the photo sessions. 

“The goal is to get the kids adopted out of the foster care system and to connect them with a loving family,” said John Zielonka, Helen’s Hope Chest community outreach coordinator. “So that they can put whatever brought them into foster care behind them and live a healthy childhood.”

Around 14,200 children in Arizona are in foster care, according to DCS. 

While more than 70 percent of the children up for adoption are adopted by their relatives or foster parents, the remaining kids need special recruitment efforts. 

That’s where the Children’s Heart Gallery steps in. 

“Our first step is to try and keep children with their families,” said Vanasse. “If that’s not possible, we try and reunify. If that’s not possible, that’s where the Heart Gallery becomes involved.”  

“The actual event is a special day for children in that situation to get pampered and get their hair and makeup done and new clothes,” she added. “The goal is to make sure they have a special day but also an opportunity for them to connect with people.” 

The children featured in the Heart Gallery represent all ethnic groups and range from toddlers to teenagers. Some have special behavioral or medical needs, while others may be groups of siblings. 

The #LoveUp Foundation was chosen by DCS in 2014 to help maintain the Gallery. 

Since then, the foundation has created a large mobile photographic exhibit that is displayed around the state. 

“The #LoveUp Foundation really does try to spread love and kindness throughout our community — but one of our most special focuses is working with kids in the foster care system,” said Kristin Hower, executive director of the Johnjay and Rich #LoveUp Foundation. 

“We try to work hand-in-hand with DCS to make this event really special with the kids,” she continued. 

Helen’s Hope Chest started in 2009 as a clothing closet for youth in foster and kinship care. It has helped thousands of youth, from newborns to teens, by providing quality clothing, shoes, hygiene items, toys, books and school supplies free of charge.

There will be six Gallery events throughout the year, with the next one taking place in Tuscon in September. 

Vanasse estimated that around 50 kids will be photographed at each event. 

Helen’s Hope Chest is in need of clothing donations for children ages 7-18.   

“In our experiences, we are usually low in boys clothing,” Zielonka said. “As long as we can continue to offer these clothes and rally the community, I think we’ll be a part of this for a while.” 

Clothing donations can be dropped off at the 126 E. University Drive site in Mesa.

(1) comment


I find its admirable for the help that these businesses are giving as well as the people who volunteer their time. But what I find not acceptable, is for DCS to take and keep children away from their real families. They go in and take a child on false accusations or a drug test that isnt fool proof. We have children that need and want to be with their parent (s) and the parent wants their their child home, but cant be due to those excuses by DCS! If a parent is holding down a full time job, takes care of their child, (house, feeds, clothes and spends time with them), who are we to judge them in their life? I see nothing wrong with a parent doing for their child, that should be done. We have parents out their that live off family members or in the street,, dont work, and sell and do drugs that have custody of their child. All under false pretenses and knowing how to lie and work the system. What is wrong with this picture? Send the children back to the responsible parent(s), and stop collecting government funds, working on the kindness of others and their giving of themselves, and let these families be. Out of 10 children at least half are taken from their families without a reasonable cause. And the majority of these foster homes are worse than the own child's home. The system is broke and taking the children from a home full of love isnt the answer! Maybe instead of millions being put into new roads and undercover vehicles, we should put it into our children's future and DCS workers that learn how to tell if someone is lying or their own investigations on parents. Going by others lies and false image they portray isnt healthy for anyone. To answer your questions, no I have no children in the system and I would wish anyone to be in AZ. System. Yes I know a few good parents that have been this situation and I know one or two crappy parents that bs their way, cheat the test, get over on the DCS workers, and dont want their child but want to hurt the other parent. ( Ie false accusations.). So get priorities straight. Dont judge and throw stones because one of these days you glass house will get shattered and your not perfect either. Stop thinking that the system is working cause its not.

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