Imagine being eight years old, and no one remembers your birthday. You feel alone and forgotten. This is the reality for the roughly 14,000 Arizona children who are currently in foster care. Arizona Helping Hands is working to change this through their Birthday Dreams Program.
Kathleen and Paul Donaldson started Arizona Helping Hands in 1998. It began as a promise to Kathleen’s dying sister to do one good deed a day. The goal of the nonprofit was to help as many at-risk people as possible.
In 2013, the organization shifted its focus on helping foster children, according to Chief Operating Officer Jodie Sprayberry.
When children are removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, they are unable to take anything other than the clothes they’re wearing. And foster parents must have certain items ready before a child can live with them.
“Since it’s costly to have all the essentials, we fill this gap,” Sprayberry said. “From the appropriate bedding, clothing and hygiene items – we provide everything a child needs so the foster parents can focus their time and energy on the child and meeting their unique emotional needs.”
Last year, Arizona Helping Hands served over 5,000 children. They believe that every child is entitled to safety, health and permanency.
To further their mission, Arizona Helping Hands created the Birthday Dreams Program. “Most foster kids don’t have birthday celebrations, so they feel forgotten and unloved. Think about a child living in a group home with 12 other kids with one adult overseeing them, and no one remembers their birthday,” Sprayberry said.
Foster parents and the Department of Child Safety workers can file birthday requests through the Arizona Helping Hands website. Volunteers shop the organization’s warehouse for toys and other goodies.
“What items aren’t donated, we write grants for, and if we don’t get grants, then we buy what we need,” Sprayberry said. Every gift is new and handpicked for the individual child. Currently, the program does 300 plus birthday celebrations a month.
All presents are wrapped and arranged in decorated birthday bags. Kids also receive another bag containing a cake mix, a pan, streamers and balloons – all the items for a traditional birthday party.
Foster children 12 and under receive three toys and one book, and kids 13-21 receive a gift card, a writing journal and a large duffel bag.
Older children have a harder time getting adopted, and they’re often moved from group home to group home. The duffel bag is meant to give these kids a sense of dignity and pride; when they move, they’re able to keep their belongings with them.
“Foster kids deserve to have great birthdays,” Sprayberry said. “They deserve to be happy and to open their eyes on their birthday and be excited. They need to feel that they’re loved, that they’re worthy and that someone remembered them on their special day.”
For more: azhelpinghands.org