Those of us not involved in the foster system sometimes have a hard time recognizing the great need there is to give the children as normal a life as possible, until the day they become part of a family. For many children in the foster care system, this day will never come, through no fault of their own. When thinking about the needs of these children, our first thoughts go to food, shelter and clothing, but what about simple things like birthdays? Who will help them celebrate these special days that only come once a year?
Founder of the EACH Foundation and former foster-child, Lily Alexander, wondered the same thing. “The EACH (Empowering Adolescents with Christ’s Help) Foundation, Inc., is a Christian non-profit foundation founded for the purpose of supporting the foster children in Forsyth County and, hopefully, beyond,” said Alexander.
There are programs in place to assist the foster system, homeless shelters and low-income individuals around the holidays with Thanksgiving meals and Christmas presents, but the EACH Foundation wanted to go even further, so Alexander met with Jessica Bell, an attorney involved in FCWAA (Forsyth County Women Attorneys Association) about the possibilities that might exist to do more. “FCWAA has been a sponsor of Christmas gifts for children in foster care for many years,” said Bell. “We give DSS (Department of Social Services) our gifts at our December meeting every year. After the December 2013, meeting, I approached Senior Social Worker Sharon Porter and asked, ‘So what do you do for birthdays?’ She replied that there was nothing in place but that she would look into it. We decided to meet together to see what we could create. Sharon recruited Senior Social Worker Carmelita Coleman to be a part of the project, and Carmelita recruited Lily to be part of the team. Lily was instrumental in the planning of Project Birthday by providing strategic planning advice and practical logistical assistance throughout the planning process. From February−April of 2014, the four of us met together and hashed out what it would take to make something like this happen. During that time, I approached the executive committee of FCWAA about sponsoring a month. They liked the idea so much that it became the group’s signature project, and we rolled it out to local law firms, corporations and other groups that had a FCWAA member as the month’s point person. I also had a contact that worked closely with Lowes Foods, and he was able to pitch the idea to them to be cake sponsors. We thought Lowes Foods was a perfect fit because they are a local, family-owned company with deep roots in the Triad.”
For some, kick-starting a new non-profit venture can be very challenging. Getting others to take time out of their busy schedules to do something that they may or may not have personal knowledge of may be a fruitless process, but the team behind Project Birthday was determined, and everyone they reached out to was truly touched! “Amazingly, everyone I approached about the idea said ‘yes,’ and we had our kickoff party on May 2nd, 2014,” said Bell. “And now, here we are more than a year later with a successful year under our belt. Program Manager at Family & Children’s Division at DSS Kimberly Nesbitt is now in charge of the DSS side.”
Project Birthday is still in its infancy, but the streamlined process is already a huge success! “We’ve worked through initial challenges and have improved our process, so that both the donor and recipient experience is improved,” said Bell. “Most of our donor groups have already signed up for another year. We’re fully booked through January of 2016, and I’m now recruiting sponsors for the rest of 2016. Lowes Foods is committed through May of 2016, as well.”
The process for collecting presents is not as simple as collecting generalized gifts and giving them to children of appropriate age groups—there is much more planning involved to ensure each child receives a special celebration! “DSS prepares a list of all the children having birthdays that month and makes sure that children recently entering care don’t get missed,” said Alexander. That list is then sent to Jessica and me. Jessica provides the list to the attorney’s office or business that will be sponsoring for that month. The office liaison provides the list to the staff members who will be purchasing the gifts. Each staff member personally selects the gift, wraps the gift and brings it back to his or her office. Then, the EACH Foundation picks up the birthday presents and delivers them to DSS. The social worker picks up the gift, along with a gift bag, including party supplies and a coupon for a beautiful birthday cake from Lowes Foods, and delivers the items to the child. Each person involved wants that child to have a wonderful and happy birthday!”
For more information about the EACH Foundation, Inc. including how you can help in the efforts to improve the lives of foster children, e-mail EACHFoundationInc@gmail.com, call 623.204.0839 or visit the website at www.EACHFoundation.com. The mailing address is P.O. Box 711, Clemmons, NC 27012.