All KIDS COUNT
By LEE CHADWICK
In The Interest of Others – February 2019 Column
In our current political climate aggressively seeking positive solutions and change could look like anarchy. The despair and uncertainty we can feel rarely yields ideas.
When I think about Rachel Ewald taking on the limitations of the foster care system...in her own garage with only enough space to help a few dozen kids, I know that garage could not remotely have contained her boundaryless intentions, her bravery, or her will.
Kids in her grade school (who were in care) were teased and humiliated because their clothes were clearly substandard. Rachel decided then in that she would find a way to make those kids look like everybody else in school; somehow. The Foster Care Support Foundation was born of that vision.
What has she accomplished since then?
The “center”, as she calls it, is the size of a small Walmart there they provide full wardrobes, books, blankets, backpacks, and much more twice annually to all children who qualify in care. Then you can add bikes, cribs, strollers, toys, coats, Halloween costumes, Christmas gifts...
Nearly 60,000 children have been served out of this one location in Roswell. 11,000 volunteers have given 34,000 hours to accomplish this feat. As they grew, undaunted by complications, Rachel’s volunteers provided the same services to kids well outside of the metro area by building parcels of needed items gathered to match each child’s age, size, and special interests. These welcome care packages are sent weekly to locations all over the state.
Hope 4 Tomorrow is a remarkably successful one-on-one mentoring program created and funded by FCSF. Students 12 and older residing in all forms of foster care in the six metro counties qualify to participate. The concept is to connect vulnerable kids with engaged, positive people they can learn from and trust. These are adults – who know how to establish and achieve goals, resolve conflict respectfully, and can calmly enjoy sharing an outing together. The diversity of participants greatly enriches the program. Currently involved mentors include retired professionals, teachers, CDC employees, bus drivers, pastors, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and city of Atlanta employees. Busy people just like us who somehow find the time to also be a lifeline. A year ago, my own match – a quiet high school senior, could not possibly see herself going to a private college on an academic scholarship. But, on August 17th she will move into a dorm on the campus of 125-year-old Wingate University as an honored freshman. This year she has developed a lot of confidence. Elizabeth can now see her own strengths as I do. Her expanded sense of self is evident as she redefines the world, and her own future, as a place where she now sees for herself, all the opportunities available to the rest of us.
The prom-a-palooza, is an annual event providing gowns and accessories to juniors and seniors in foster care from all over Georgia. 228 very happy girls were fully outfitted in 2018 accompanied by a volunteer ‘personal shopper’ to help them create their own individual ‘look’. They came by appointment in cars and busses traveling to Roswell from as far away as Valdosta. It is wonderful to see them go from being a cenacle teen to a smiling and glowing young woman in less than a few hours.
Fostering Hope is a small thrift shop, also in Roswell, where donations are sold daily to fund the programs of FCSF. Small furniture, books, artwork, and other desirable items can be donated there daily.
If you are not already disturbed by what is happening to the traditional American family today, you are probably not paying attention. Drug and alcohol abuse are the primary culprits sending 15,000 children into the foster care system in Georgia and another 250,000 children into fostered ‘relative care’ outside of their original family unit. The most recent change is that now 75% of the children served at the center have been placed with grandparents; many of whom are on fixed incomes and get absolutely no monetary assistance from the state. FCSF Partners with the Department of Children and Family Services but receives no state or federal funding of any kind. All support for their amazing services are from individuals and private community resources. Most impressive – the center annually provides 5.5 million dollars in goods and services to children in need with an annual budget of only 850,000 dollars. That means more than 500 dollars in goods and services for every dollar spent.
As Ronald Reagan once said, “Hope is not a strategy.” Radical change requires innovation – but only the believers are brave enough to try to change the world so it is they who will do so.