Imagine how scary it must be for kids in the foster system, to be taken away from parents and siblings and handed over to strangers. Those kids need all the help they can get.
The Nina Foundation, whose original charter was to raise money for Rhode Island kids in need, was established in 2003 by children’s author Erin Dionne and her family to honor her grandmother’s memory. The foundation partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to provide “…the financial assistance, furnishings and necessities needed to help…families create a safe and healthy environment for their children.” After doing that successfully for a decade, this remarkable family went even further. They bought a house, fixed it up, and donated it to a program called Families Together, run by the Providence Children’s Museum in concert with the RI DCYF.
Children in foster care are typically removed from their families because of neglect or abuse. The long-term goal of the system is to improve the family’s situation and put it back together again. The state provides training and support for parenting skills and supervises meetings. From the museum’s website, “Families Together offers a variety of visitation services. With the support and guidance of the Museum’s family therapists, parents engage in healthy play activities with their children where they improve communication and parenting skills.”
Nina’s House expands this program by providing a home setting where parents can work on normal, everyday skills while visiting with their children. They can make a meal, give their child a bath, or just read them a book. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest difference.
Did you know that foster children often have to drag their belongings from placement to placement in plastic garbage bags? When I first heard that I resolved to donate some gently used suitcases to kids in foster care. I went online to mass.gov to poke around and found a Department of Children & Families site that had information about volunteering and donating, but no mention of the need for suitcases. A subsequent search for foster children suitcases turned up an organization called Suitcases4Kids, but there was no drop-off point in Massachusetts. Frustrated and disappointed, I ended up donating the suitcases to a local organization that worked with the Lost Boys from Sudan who were also in need of suitcases.
Thinking about kids in foster care breaks my heart, and yet, I’m not eager to sign up to become a foster parent. I was not the sort of mother who volunteered to lead a Girl Scout troop or chaperone fifth grade science camp. I don’t think I’d make a very good foster parent, and heaven knows these kids have enough problems already. But when I hear of an opportunity to do something to make their lives a little easier, I do what I can. Now that I’m out of suitcases, Suitcases4Kids has added a drop-off point in Needham. They also list sites in Maryland, Hawaii and New Hampshire. If you have old suitcases, please consider donating them.
The grandmother who inspired Nina’s House used to say, “A little kindness never hurt anyone, ya know!” She was so right. We can’t all donate houses, but the kids in foster care can use all the kindness we’ve got, and a few suitcases, too.