A young boy under the care of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was being moved from one program to another on a rainy day. When his social worker opened the back of her trunk to remove his belongings, one of the trash bags had ripped. His artwork, undergarments, and other belongings fell out onto the street for everyone to see. Not only were some of his precious possessions ruined, but he was also very embarrassed.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. As of March 2014, there were 8,190 children in the Massachusetts foster care system, and often they must change homes. Children will change foster families in order to be placed with one that better meets their needs or transition from a residential program to foster care. These children, who are already scared, alone, confused, sad, and hurt, need to pack up their belongings quickly, which often means that everything they own is stuffed into trash bags, a degrading experience that can add to all the misery these young people have already experienced.
Four students enrolled in the Springfield College Master of Social Work (MSW) satellite program in Worcester are working to change that. Julie Welch, Lashelle Morman, Tara Keefe, and Kim Barnaby (pictured above with Assistant Professor Karen Clark-Hoey) have started Dignity Matters, a campaign that aims to provide quality, durable laundry bags for transporting foster children’s belongings.
These women understand the need for such a program, all four have years of experience as DCF social workers or as human services professionals with other programs.
“I've seen first-hand the impact carrying prized possessions in a trash bag has on a child,” Welch says. “There is nothing more upsetting than seeing a child going to foster care or to a residential program with their belongings in a trash bag. It's heartbreaking. We are hoping to reach out, raise funds, and spread the awareness that an action as small as donating or purchasing a bag for a child in foster care can truly go a long way.”
The idea for the bag project came during a Policy III class when the group was tasked with picking a social action project.
“Like everywhere, the budgets are tight and unfortunately this issue is not a top priority,” Welch says. “Bags for kids to carry their belongings should be something that is written into the budget at DCF or into the budgets of the agencies that serve the children in care, rather than relying on charitable donations. Until then, we will continue to make a difference where we can and promote awareness of the need while preserving the dignity and human rights of the already fragile children in state custody through a rather simple action.” In fact the group recently was able to purchase a bulk order of laundry bags from Amazon.com for only $2 a bag.
The women have begun a GoFundMe drive to raise money at: gofundme.com/DignityMatters. All money raised will be used to purchase laundry bags that will be donated to local programs that work directly with children placed out of Worcester County DCF area offices. The four students hope to keep the program going even after they graduate this May.
A similar mission takes flight in Agawam
Tamara Blake never planned on starting a nonprofit organization. A licensed clinician and psychologist, she has worked with children touched by loss, devastation, and trauma for several years, but an encounter with a child in September 2010 gave her a new mission. She was working for the Gandara Center in Springfield and saw a child preparing to move to a new home.
“I saw all that little boy’s belongings packed up in trash bags,” she recalls. “I remembered that I had a piece of luggage in my car that I had been planning to donate to Goodwill. I ran out to my car, grabbed the luggage, gave it to the child, and helped transfer the belongings. He was so appreciative. You could see the sense of pride on his face. I knew I wanted to offer other children the same gift. This was a problem in need of a solution.”
Blake began reaching out to others on social media and the donations started coming in. Nearly five years later, Angels Take Flight (angelstakeflight.org) is a nonprofit based in Agawam, changing the lives of children one suitcase at a time. The organization aids those in the DCF system, as well as children in domestic violence or homeless shelters, hospitals and other settings. Blake and other volunteers personally drop off luggage to safe houses, shelters, and agencies, ensuring the items get to those who need them most. Sometimes, the children themselves get to pick out their new suitcase. Blake recalls one piece of luggage in particular.
“It was a fabric bag, which most likely had belonged to an older person. I wasn’t sure if a child would like it, but a little boy grabbed it, hugged it and exclaimed, ‘This is going to be mine because it is so comfortable!’” she recalls.
In addition to luggage, Angels Take Flight also receives donations of knitted blankets, pillowcases, toiletries, and toys (during the holiday season), which they distribute on a case-by-case basis to children in need. Recently, “we were so happy we were able to get Easter goodies to a local safe home for the children currently residing there,” Blake adds. “It was all in beautiful luggage the children can also use when they transition.”
Angels Take Flight receives funding in a variety of ways: corporate donations, fundraisers, and private donations. The 4th Annual Angels Take Flight 5K run will be held in Longmeadow on May 9. Information can be found at angelstakeflight.org/events.
CIRCLE of FRIENDS
Wednesday, May 6 — Northern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Jordan’s Furniture Reading: IMAX Conference Room- 50 Walker’s Brook Dr., Reading. 6 p.m. RSVP: 978-557-2734.
Thursday, May 14 — Family Support Group, Jordan’s Furniture, 50 Walkers Brook Drive, Reading, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. This waiting family support group is open to families from all regions who are waiting, matched, or placed with a child. This is safe space for families to share their thoughts on the adoption process and receive guidance and support from other families. Call 978-337-6500 to RSVP.
Sunday, May 17 — Jordan’s Walk/Run for Adoption 5K. Jordan’s Furniture, 450 Revolutionary Drive, East Taunton. 10 a.m. Walkers, runners and all adoptive families welcome. Face painting, raffles, refreshments, prizes, and more. 5-K Run or walk: $25. Ages 12 & under: $5-$10. jordanswalkforadoption.org.
Monday, May 18 — Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Mass. Department of Children and Families, Canton Police Station, 1492 Washington Street, Canton. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP to 508-894-3830.
Wednesday, May 20 — Boston Region Adoption Info Meeting, DCF Boston, 451 Blue Hill Avenue, Dorchester. 4 p.m.-5:30 p.m. 617-989-9209.
Thursday, May 21 — Southern Region Adoption Info Meetings, Morton Hospital, 88 Washington Street, Taunton, Margaret Stone Conference Room, first floor. 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. RSVP: 508-894-3830.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For parents of children in elementary or middle school, this monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing — Group for Adopted Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For adopted children ages 14-19, this group focuses on identity development, self-esteem improvement, confidence building and communication skills. Participants will use conversation to reflect upon the experience of adoption and belonging. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or email@example.com.
Ongoing — Group for Adoptive Parents of Teens. Adoption Associates, 34 Lincoln Street, Newton. For adopted children ages 14-19, For parents of children in elementary or middle school, this monthly group focuses on understanding the impact of loss and trauma; learning to manage difficult and challenging behaviors; strengthening the family bond while preserving identity; and more. For more information, contact 617-965-9369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your group or organization is holding an adoption information or support group and would like to have information posted for readers of baystateparent, please email email@example.com.