During the Great Depression, a young child around the age of two and her older brother (not yet four) were dropped off at a church because their mother could no longer afford to take care of them, or at least that’s what the siblings were told when they were old enough to remember. As the children grew older, they spent their entire childhood in foster care; they were never legally adopted by any family. The older brother, Walter, joined the Marines and the younger sister, Helen, began working in a department store.
The older brother fought in the Korean War and was killed during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Helen married and had two daughters–one of whom is my mother-in-law. When the girls were very young (about the same age Helen and her brother were when they were surrendered), their father, Helen’s husband, was killed in a car accident. Helen considered doing the same thing her mother did when she was younger but decided against it–those girls were her only family and she wanted to do whatever she could to keep her family together. She remarried and the daughters eventually raised children of their own and those children raised their own children after that (my kids!).
Helen Simmons’ story served as inspiration for Helen’s Hope Chest, an organization by the Mesa United Way to help foster children and their families. State funding for foster care and kinship care (care from a family member who is not a biological parent) has significantly decreased and organizations like Helen’s help to ease some of the financial cost of caring for foster children. Many times, children come to their foster family with only the clothes on their backs. Foster and kinship families can come to Helen’s four times per year (once per season) and receive whatever clothing or supplies they need. Foster parents can also choose Christmas and birthday presents for their children as well as back to school supplies at the start of each new school year. No child leaves without a book. This is all free; as a result, Helen’s relies on the kindness and donations of others.
Obviously, this organization is near and dear to my heart and that of the rest of my family. I try to contribute as much as I can, and when I can’t, I do my best to spread the word about Helen’s and what they need. Since they survive mostly on donations, they often run low on supplies–toothbrushes, body wash, etc. and boys and girls clothes sizes 5-10 (that age is roughest on clothes!). So while I can’t make a difference all by myself, I try to educate my friends about the organization and encourage them to donate. You can also “like” them on Facebook and receive updates (positive stories and updated needs).
At my previous school, I learned that a student of mine was living in a group home. I told her about Helen’s and their house mother loaded everyone up in the big van and took them to Mesa (it’s far, but it’s worth it!). They loved being able to have a shopping spree–something none of them had ever experienced.
As I talk about Helen’s to different groups of people, I am surprised by how many people are involved in some way with foster care. What I mean by surprised is that there are so many people involved, but it gets very little recognition at the state funding level. The people who are involved do so because they care and they want to help. Telling them about Helen’s is one way I can help. I also know that there are other organizations that help foster children and their families, but I really like the concept at Helen’s. It’s set up like a store which I think makes it seem more comfortable to the children who visit.
So, while it doesn’t take place in a classroom, being involved with Helen’s Hope Chest is one way I hope I am making a difference.