Arizona Helping Hands is the largest provider of basic needs to the 14,000 children in our state’s foster care system. It is truly important to give boys and girls who have been abused and neglected a sense of safety and dignity.
The beds, cribs, clothing, diapers, backpacks filled with school supplies, and other items help to raise their self-esteem.
We take basic needs to another level with our Birthday Dreams program. We believe that celebrating a birthday for children in foster care is a basic need. Having met so many youngsters who – just due to their unique circumstances – have never celebrated their birthday, we understand the importance of that special day.
We receive requests from foster families and the Department of Child Safety caseworkers daily.
One request might state that little Joey is turning 4 and likes trains. Another might tell us that Paige’s 17th birthday is coming up and she likes soccer and Harry Potter.
Our objective is to let Joey, Paige and thousands of children know that we care. Our army of volunteers will “shop” through our stock of donated and purchased items to find the perfect gift to celebrate them.
After finding the Thomas the train set, volunteer Anne will gift-wrap it with care and place it, along with a few other items and a book, into a white shopping bag that has been artistically decorated to say “Happy Birthday Joey!”
Imagine Joey’s reaction to receiving a package made just for him. For some of the youngsters, the beautifully decorated bag is as important as what is inside. Somebody spent their time creating a magical message just for him.
Teenagers in foster care are too often the forgotten ones. Many have been written off by our society. Hard to place in foster homes, burdened with baggage from their life experiences, maybe living in a group home with 5-10 other children, their birthdays go unacknowledged.
We prepare birthday packages for every child in the foster care system, regardless of age. For Paige, her package includes a duffel bag – to store her belongings and replace the black trash bag in which she has carried her life possessions from home to home. It also has a soccer ball and gift cards to let her decide what her needs and wants are.
We might throw in some makeup, and we add a book (Harry Potter in her case) to every package that we assemble.
I have met way too many children who have never celebrated a birthday. One young lady shared that the first time her birthday was acknowledged as special was the day she turned 16 and her caseworker and social worker pitched in a few dollars to buy her a birthday cake. We can, and must, do better – and that’s why our Birthday Dream program exists.
This program is supported by our caring community. Companies have sponsored toy and gift card collections. Caring individuals ask their friends to donate items for kids, instead of gifting them yet another bottle of wine.
Others have assembled Birthdays in Bag kits that include cake mixes, frosting, candles and more to give a family the party to go along with the gift package.
Volunteers have spent loving hours decorating bags and wrapping presents. It is wonderful to have so many coming together to share the love with kids who don’t smile and laugh enough.
We know that every child should experience the joy of their special day, and our program makes the day special for every child in foster care!
Arizona Helping Hands will make Birthday Dreams come true for 3,400+ children in 2019. To learn how you can help contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Shufelt is president/CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Information: www.azhelpinghands.org. Contact Dan at email@example.com.