A few months ago, I was called to my office at 8:30 at night to assist a social worker in gathering some belongings for two children, ages 7 and 9, who had just been removed from their mother for the second time in six months. When I arrived she explained that they had very little clothing and basic needs at the home that were suitable to take so she contacted our organization, One Simple Wish, in hopes of putting together a few outfits to prepare them for their move into their new foster homes that night. The children had to go to school tomorrow and they certainly couldn't go in the clothing they were wearing that night.
As we gathered piles of brand new clothes and personal care products from our Ohana closet (a program that provides essentials to children in foster care) I watched the worker reach for a nearby plastic bag to pack them up. I stopped her and directed her to the shelves of brand new duffle bags and luggage.
Sadly in the ten years that I have been working with foster children and at-risk youth, this scenario has become all too familiar. There have been countless times where I have witnessed a child pack or unpack their belongings in a plastic bag, a plastic bin, a cardboard box and even a trash bag. When I started One Simple Wish in 2008 I vowed to create solutions for issues like these, those that were negatively impacting kids in foster care, with smart and sustainable programs that would also involve the general public. After all, what is the point of raising awareness if it isn't going to spark action?
Over the past seven years One Simple Wish has filled our share of "wishes" for duffle bags, storage lockers and luggage, among many other things. To do this we would scour the internet to find an item that was cost effective but still durable, knowing that the young person would likely need to move again. We helped other wonderful organizations with luggage, suitcase and duffle bag drives and time and time again we found that, despite all of our best efforts, these drives were time consuming and not entirely efficient. I longed to find a way to ensure that more children, in more states had easy access to quality luggage at an affordable price point so our supporters would feel comfortable granting this type of wish.
In February 2015 I was reminded again of this great need and the feeling a trash bag gives a foster child about their own worth when I read CASA's former Executive Director Michael Piraino's wonderful Huffington Post piece entitled No More Trash Bag Kids.
Then, a few months later, after filling fifteen more wishes for luggage via Amazon, I decided to contact the manufacturer. I reached out to Traveler's Choice about working together to identify a product that would be durable, cost-effective and attractive to the young people we serve. We also wanted a simple, efficient means of delivering them.
And today, I think we have it.
We're calling this for-profit/non-profit partnership initiative "Carry On" and we feel it's an incredible way to show society what can be done when these two worlds collide for the common good. One Simple Wish has a vast network of hundreds of Community Partner agencies serving foster kids across 48 states; therefore we can reach thousands of kids each year. Traveler's Choice has the quality products and the logistics in place to ship to any agency that makes a request through the One Simple Wish system, a system that has been used successfully to fill tens of thousands of wishes for years.
The point of this piece isn't to promote this initiative, it's to celebrate collaboration. This is why I got involved in nonprofit work. I wanted to solve problems. I wanted to work with others who shared my passion for making real change for those who needed help.
Whether people reading this decide to support Carry On or they decide to get involved in another luggage program from another organization for youth in foster care, I will be happy. Because the goal is to make sure that NO child ever has to pack their belongings in anything but proper luggage. The goal is to address the problem. And I am so proud to be just one part of this solution.
I hope more of my non-profit colleagues will join me in celebrating the spirit of collaboration. Because as I recently read in a very awesomely designed meme, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Author's Note: This piece wouldn't even be possible without collaboration. I have to thank my dear friend and fellow children's rights crusader and HuffPost blogger Chris Chmielewski for reviewing this. You can find his amazing work here and here.