Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Want to know exactly how your old suitcase can affect the life of a foster kid?

Finders Keepers Consignment stores are currently collecting suitcases for foster children through the Women’s Council of St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Want to know exactly how your suitcase will affect the life of a foster kid? Assistant manager Cassandra Rayburn can tell you from personal experience. She’s lived these moves, and she knows just how much these suitcases mean to kids whose lives change in the blink of any eye. Learn more about Cassandra and how much the suitcases donated to this cause will help:

Cassandra: What strikes me most about my experience bouncing my way through foster care in the late 1990’s is the infrastructure of the system.   It is a sprawling, multi-faceted system.  For example:

·         Each home may have preferences about the types of children they are willing to accept. 

·         They may have more preferences about what types of children they will accept on an emergency basis. 

·         Each group home has a maximum capacity.

·          The families housing foster kids still go on vacation.  (The new foster children mostly do not- they cannot be transported across state boundaries, and probably have a court date to attend soon anyways- if they were welcome in the first place.)
These are all examples of why I called my experience “bouncing.”  The system is placing children sometimes on a day-to-day basis.  The problem is so big and so time consuming, sometimes all the system is hoping for is each child in a bed by bedtime.

Cassandra Rayburn
Now my story is compiled of a mish-mash of problems, odd situations, and oversights from county health offices, which were just doing what they needed to do to get through their workload.  My story is not the run-of –the-mill kid in foster care story.  The thing about my story is that I understood it. 
On one occasion when I was being transported from home, I kindly told the worker to wait 30 minutes so I could properly gather my belongings.  I had a travel bag full of outfits; I grabbed my popular-brands of perfume and other not-so essentials, and tossed a couple of my wrapped Christmas presents in there for good measure.  I had it all figured out, and had been dealing with these kinds of moves for many years.  My story didn’t happen out of nowhere.  Or in the middle of the night.   But so many children’s stories do.
Imagine being swooped up from wherever you are, doing whatever children do, having your belongings stuffed in a store brand, garbage bag, and sent to a place where nothing is familiar, and that bag will probably tear before you get there.  (That is, if you are lucky enough to have someone be able to gather some of your belongings.  If not, you may have a small allowance that can buy a few outfits at a discount merchant, outfits that you will still stuff in a garbage bag). Now, not only is your situation unfamiliar, but remember, you’re a child. You probably have no idea why you are there anyways. 
So what’s the big deal about the garbage bag? It’s cheap, it’s sort-of efficient, and it’s the best they can do in that chaos of displacement.
But it comes at a high cost for the foster kid, whose life is about to change. Again. The garbage bag signifies that nothing is normal.  Do you ever take a garbage bag full of clothes to Grandma’s?  What about on summer vacation, or a sleepover?  It’s shocking enough to be transplanted, sometimes several times in a month, to foster homes or group homes.  A suitcase is symbolic of family trips and holidays.  A suitcase brings faith to a child that his or her unfamiliar situation is just temporary.  It is not as scary and open-ended as a torn, stuffed trash bag.
A suitcase will be less likely to get mixed up with someone else’s black trash bag.  It is definitely less likely to be mistaken for trash.  If the only reminders a child can carry with them can be mistaken for trash, isn’t that heartbreaking?

Please consider contributing suitcases and duffel bags to this very personal drive. We have currently collected 80 suitcases - that's 80 kids who no longer have to feel like everything they own is little better than trash. And that's amazing.

All of our stores are accepting donations at this time.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Building relationships in Eastman - A Kanu Update!

Betsy and I ventured to Eastman today to check in on Kanu and you will all be glad to hear that he is doing very well. We swung by, picked him up and headed to the Cochran Campus before the financial aid office closed. It had been suggested to me by someone who cares about Kanu that it would be wise to meet with the financial aid office and explain Kanu’s special situation. This was great advice. We learned a lot from our visit and I believe his aid advisor learned a little more about Kanu. It was time well spent and he got some dates and deadlines that he needed to know. They found out he has support in the form of 2 “moms”, Betsy and me.
I realized Kanu needs an advocate to help him navigate all the dates, deadlines and fees so he doesn’t miss something. I did not helicopter parent my kids and I certainly won’t be doing this with him but I realized today that without someone asking essential questions, he could make expensive mistakes. Too many assumptions are made on the part of the college concerning new students. They need a mentor for these kids, especially new students. Thank you to Bobby King for suggesting that I get involved with the financial aid office. It will make a difference.
We stopped by his bank and deposited $750 in contributions from Finders Keepers customers and consignors. Kanu couldn’t believe money was still coming in. We brought him copies of the Champion article written about his journey. I hope you all saw it! Betsy made his favorite cookies and brought some of his favorite foods. We stopped by the grocery store stocked him up on a few things, including a can opener. Don’t ask how he has been getting by without one!
Then we headed to the Aviation Campus and met Chad who co-ordinates and manages the flight instructors. He was both helpful and encouraging to Kanu as he gave us multiple sites to visit for scholarships. Chad did a bit of mentoring on the spot, giving Kanu advice on the best way to approach each segment of flight school and training.
As we were leaving the campus, a guy pulled up beside us and jumped out of his SUV. He stopped us and asked if he had heard correctly that Kanu was from Liberia. Kanu got out and spoke with him and it turns out that this young man was raised in Kenya and Nigeria by his missionary parents. He offered encouragement and advice on loans, classes, flying and instructors and it turns out they are in a class together! His name is Jordan and he shared that one of the main instructors is a Christian and really cares about the students. He and Kanu exchanged phone numbers. Jordan didn’t have to stop us or even notice Kanu but he went out of his way to meet him and I am convinced that was divine.

So we made progress building relationships today: Kathy in Financial Aid, Chad, the flight instructor coordinator and Jordan, a fellow student. Mustafa has been invaluable with his knowledge of campus life…and his car. Kanu is surrounded by support in Eastman and he knows that he has support at his Finders Keepers home, too. He has been a little homesick but he is building a life in Eastman, as he should, one relationship at a time.