Foster Love Project

Did you know that when children go to live with a new family for foster care placement, it is sometimes with little more than the clothes on their backs? Perhaps they had only a few minute to toss belongings into a garbage bag as they are being shuffled out the door. Rarely is there an opportunity to carefully pack a bag of their best-loved belongings and outfits before they are taken to live in a new home.

Experienced foster Mom and founder of Foster Love Project, Kelly Hughes recognized this sad fact and knew it was wrong.  Different kids will pick up on it to different degrees, but there is a unfortunate message sent when your belongings are transported via garbage bag. Her initial plan, the “project” part of Foster Love Project, was to try to do something about this (temporarily) for the agency that she had worked with when welcoming her foster children.

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The plan was simple but profound: make sure the agency was supplied with bags to accompany a child when he or she was taken to live in a new home so that they would have something special, something of their own as they began a new life in a strange place. The packing instructions were as follows: Fill a bag (diaper or duffle) or backpack with these gender and age appropriate items.

  1. Pajamas (winter and summer)
  2. A book
  3. A stuffed animal
  4. A blanket
  5. A pack of socks
  6. A toothbrush & toothpaste
  7. Body wash and a scrubber

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From the beginning, Kelly was able to collect over 1,300 bags in just two month time (after an initial goal of 300).  It was obvious that the mission had struck a chord with people. Since then, just a couple of years later, the Project has taken off in a huge way. After outgrowing her living room, Foster Love Project is now located in some office space and storage rooms at the North Way Community Church in Dormont (2865 Espy Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15216).

Along with the number of bags, and supporters, the mission has grown as well. Now in addition to providing bags to be distributed at foster agencies around Western PA, they are also able to act as a distribution center for new or high-quality, gently-used items that foster children are likely to need. Foster families in need of clothing, books, diapers, car seats, and any number of other items are able to stop in at the Foster Love Project office to get supplies. Please check out their website and reach out if you are able to donate or if you have a need.

Foster Love Project actually hosts two large “drives” throughout the year. During the summer they conduct a gift card drive that can help foster families with clothing and school supplies for the back-to-school season.  And right now, they are about to enter their primary push for collecting bags. Throughout the months of November and December, businesses, neighborhood groups, churches, clubs and generous volunteers of all sorts work together to collect and fill bags so local agencies are prepared with bags to go along with each child placed in a new home.

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We’re really only scratching the surface of the ways that you could help.  In addition to the website, you may want to take a look at their Facebook page for ideas that will inspire you to put a bag together or bring family and friends in to help sort donations in the clothing room. this is an organization that thrives because caring people have been willing to come alongside of Kelly Hughes’ vision and help in the hard work. The more people who can volunteer, the more that can donate, the more children here in the Pittsburgh area will be impacted for the better.

Ronald McDonald House Charities – Pittsburgh

For a three year period that ended in the Fall of 2000, my younger brother spent more nights at the Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland then he did in our home.  That meant that at least one, if not all, of the rest of the family staying in Cleveland, too.  My Dad manned the couch in Chris’s room every one of those nights, but my Mom and I needed to find an alternate place to stay.

Fortunately, nearby was a Ronald McDonald House.  There we were able to get a comfortable bed, a hot shower, and a place to decompress a little after what sometimes felt like endless hours in the hospital.  Without it, we’d have been making the 90 minute drive home and back every day or paying for a hotel room.  Either option would have stretched out budget/sanity beyond the breaking point after a little while.

If you put yourself in our shoes, it isn’t hard to see how important a Ronald McDonald House an be.  And, truthfully, we were in a better position than most of the other families staying there at the time.  Many had traveled long distances, even from other countries, so that their children could receive necessary care.  Families with a sick child are exhausted and anxious.  Having a place to rest their heads each night takes on huge worry off their plates.

Pittsburgh

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Here is Pittsburgh, a joint effort by a children’s oncologist, the McDonald’s Corporation, and the Pittsburgh Steelers helped open our Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Home in 1979.  Even with an expansion, needs grew so much over the years that a new home was opened in 2009, right next to Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville.  In the new House, which include over 70 individual apartments, every family gets to stay in a suite that includes a kitchen and a living room, while larger common areas include a computer room, playroom, and laundry room.  Now families stay just a short walk down a connecting corridor from their children.  Given the nature of 24/7 medical care, the importance of this feature should not be overlooked.

The Ronald McDonald House here in Pittsburgh goes to great lengths to make itself a home away from home for the visiting families.  meals, snacks, paper products, linens and towels are all provided for the guests.  Check-in and check-out are both determined by the individual needs of the family once RMHC has been made aware of the need by a hospital social worker.

The McDonald’s Connection

Ronald McDonald Houses have been the charity of choice for the McDonald’s Corporation since their inception in 1974.  The support of McDonald’s has allowed the charity to expand to 345 houses worldwide.  The corporation is able to support the charity in a wide variety of ways at both the corporate and franchise levels.  I’ll direct you to the website for the details on that, but it is important to note that the growth and success of the charity couldn’t happen without the additional support of many corporate and individual donors, as well as the medical community.  The House here in Pittsburgh is fortunate to have some great, local corporate partners.

Teen Lounge

Out of Town and Local

The primary function of RMHC is to provide a home for families who have traveled at least 40 miles so their children can be treated here in Pittsburgh.  While most of the families have children being treated at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital, all local hospitals with pediatric units are able to refer a family to the Ronald McDonald’s House.

Here in the city, RMHC also operate a Care Mobile that travels to medically underserved pockets of Western PA to provide; wellness care, sick visits, physical exams, immunizations, and dental care.  Staffed by Doctors and Nurses, the 40-foot, state-of-the-art vehicle brings much-needed care to over 1,000 children per year.

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Helping

There are roles for both individual and group volunteers at the Ronald McDonald House.  Some of the ways to do that include, but are not limited to:

-cooking a meal

-brining snacks and planning activities for a family social hour

-planning crafts or a party for children staying at the House

-putting on a performance

-decorating the doors on the residence floors

-creating “welcome bags” for new guests

Rooftop Garden

I really can’t stress enough just how disoriented a family can feel when they are putting all their energies into making certain their sick child is receiving needed attention and care.  RMHC fills a huge gap that would otherwise leave families in a position where they would have to decide between leaving their child on their own in the hospital or adding costs to the medical bills that are already starting to pile up.

I’ll close in my usual manner, by encouraging you to consider if helping RMHC with either your time or your money might be something worth looking in to.  I’m one of the many thousands served over the last 40+ years who can give a first-hand testimony as to the positive impact this facility can have on a family.

MAYA Organization

 

My wife and I first met Tomi Ward when we were considering adoption a few years ago. Ultimately that plan didn’t end up moving forward, but we did gain a friendship with Tomi and her family from the pursuit.  We’ve come to know Tomi as a devoted mother and tireless worker for the nonprofit that she founded in 2009, MAYA Organization.

Like many organizations that started small, the mission of the work that Tomi and her coworkers do at MAYA has changed over the years.  Originally, they focused on adoption and the needs of mothers who were considering placing a child for adoption.  While MAYA is still a full-service adoption agency, that mission has grown as they discovered new needs in the community.

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MAYA still focuses primarily on women and babies, but now their stated mission covers a bit more.  They seek to empower women to break the cycle of generational trauma by fostering the optimal physical and mental development of their children.  It’s a vision that sees holistic health as beginning in the womb and a belief that if women are supported through pregnancy and during that crucial first year of their child’s life, there is a much greater chance that both mother and baby will flourish going forward.

To do this, MAYA employs a number of professional counselors who operate in individual and group settings.  The counselors who work with individuals are trained in a variety of specializations and types of therapy.  The group classes focus on prenatal health and parenting instruction.  Moms who attend classes receive “MAYA Money”, which they can use to purchase baby clothes, diapers, car seats and other necessary accessories.  The intention of offering this incentive is to do all MAYA can to equip new Moms to care for their new children.

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MAYA has offices located on the Northside and in Swissvale, and recently started offering classes to Pittsburgh area refugee and immigrant communities.  They currently offer classes in Spanish, Nepali, and Swahili to women who might otherwise feel isolated and unsure of how to properly care for their new child as they acclimate to a new nation and culture.

Beyond this, MAYA has some access to work with women in the Hope Unit of the Allegheny County Jail thanks to a recent grant that they received.  A shockingly large percentage of incarcerated women have experienced trauma and never had access to mental health counseling.  MAYA hopes to play a positive role in the rehabilitation of these women as they work through a wide variety of issues that may have fostered an environment where bad decisions ultimately led to incarceration.

Even with all of this, MAYA Organization is still a full-service adoption agency; providing help to both women considering adoption and families who would like to adopt.  They are prepared to offer guidance on “where do I start” all the way to counseling that might be necessary for all parties once an adoption is finalized (and everything in between).

How You Can Help

MAYA’s greatest needs at the moment are financial.  The current state budget wrangling has left MAYA (and hundreds of other Pennsylvania organizations) unsure of how to plan for the short and long-term.  If you’d consider donating, they are in the midst of a campaign that will match your giving.

Additionally, MAYA’s mission would benefit from spreading the word about what they do. They exist to help women and families heal. If you know of anyone who might benefit from their services, please point them in the right direction.  They will receive professional, compassionate care.

For more information including how to contact, give to, or learn more about MAYA, please visit their website and reach out directly.