Eighteen years ago when I became a foster parent, I had no idea that the heavy duty trash bags that the social workers took out of their car and placed in our driveway were what most youngsters placed in foster care use as luggage…
I didn’t have a clue. Then I began talking to foster care alumni. It seems that garbage bags are frequently a topic of conversation when they get together. Recently I overheard a man and a woman who had grown up in foster care talking about their first pieces of real luggage. They spoke fondly about the colors and patterns of the suitcases, what they kept in them, and where they stored them in their rooms. “I remember when I traded my garbage bag in for that suitcase,” the woman said. “I was flying on Cloud Nine for days. Having my very own luggage boosted my self esteem. That suitcase was a sign that I was worthy. It became my ticket to success. I held my head higher when I was out in the world.”
Recently, I had the honor of driving over to Emily’s house to pick up a car full of brand new duffle bags and suitcases for The Suitcase Project. This spring, Emily decided that she wanted to invest her time and energy supporting The Suitcase Project for the second year in a row. She approached her good friend Sarah and told her about it. They came up with a plan. They would check in with their teacher to see if all of the classes at their school could pitch in. Thanks to their visionary teacher, the entire student body rallied to support the cause!
I drove up to Emily’s house. Sarah and her mom were carrying suitcases and duffle bags loaded with stuffed animals, journals, toiletries, baby supplies, socks, t-shirts and other goodies out to the front lawn. Emily and her mom came out of the front door right after them, arms loaded with additional items. The goodness in the air was palpable. We hugged and I told the girls how much we appreciate their vision, hard work and desire to support their peers who have been placed in foster care.
Emily and Sarah stood on the lawn behind their colorful collection to have their picture taken. They were delighted that this year’s donations will be given to social workers at the Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America Conference. They will take them to DCF area offices and share them with kids on their caseloads.
Making Suitcase Project items available to DCF staff has become a REFCA Conference tradition! I love setting up the Suitcase Project table! It reminds me of creating fun vignettes in my toy stores: suitcases & duffle bags of all sizes are set up next to colorful bins of Wish List items. Social workers are invited to walk by and “shop” for kids on their caseloads.
I love pouring whimsy, color, light and resources into the world of child welfare. I have done it at Treehouse. I have also created fun spaces for kids to enjoy at Camp To Belong MA. We set up our Camp To Belong MA Supply Cabin before campers arrive. It is chock full of brand new sleeping bags, pillows, pillow cases, duffle bags, flash lights, toiletries and beach towels that our stellar partner, Beaver Summer Programs, donates to CTB MA. Those BSP campers and their families step right up to the plate to support the kids. They want to help children and youth placed in foster care and appreciate having an easy way to do so. Just like Emily and Sarah.
Thinking about Emily and Sarah makes me smile. They are two awesome young women who want to make a difference. And they are! Plans are already underway for next year’s Suitcase Project collection drive. I applaud the girls and can’t wait to collaborate with them again. Looking back fifty five years, I see myself as a young person wanting to make a difference. Emily, Sarah and I are definitely kindred spirits!