I have been raising money to support children experiencing foster care since 2002. Over the past 9 years, my goal has been to develop, launch and sustain an array of compelling new programs that invite people of all ages to invest in the lives of youth in our child welfare system. Sometimes I accomplish my fundraising goals by writing grants. Other times I achieve them with the help of generous philanthropists. Fundraising events also provide critical funding. As non-profit professionals will tell you, these three approaches are key to every vibrant and sustainable non-profit organization.
A Step Up, founded in 2006 by Amy Briney, Pam Forman, Stacey Keenan, Gina Saltonstall and Carolyn Shaughnessy, offers a unique fundraising venue. A Step Up’s mission is to educate community members about the innovative contributions made by local charities and raise money for non-profits that serve children in need. To achieve their mission, A Step Up founders invite women they know to attend fun, informal gatherings. They host events at their homes and invite a representative from the organizations they support to speak about their work. They ask each guest for a $35.00 donation. All of the money collected is given to the non-profit presenting that evening.
I have been fortunate to speak at two A Step Up events – once to raise money for Sibling Connections and once to inspire people to invest in the Treehouse Foundation. In an article titled Giving Circles Boost Charitable Giving, a Boston Globe reporter wrote about one of those events: “One recent night in Needham, several dozen women stood inside Carolyn Shaughnessy’s living and dining rooms, listening intently to a woman talk about some of the state’s most vulnerable children.”
That woman was me. I had just started the Suitcase Project – a Treehouse initiative designed to ensure that every child who is placed in foster care carries their belongings in a brand new suitcase rather than a garbage bag, which unfortunately is the only bag available for the majority of our children who experience foster care.
Another person listening intently that night was Carolyn’s 10 year old daughter. Inspired by what she heard, she made a plan: to find out what else her peers experiencing foster care would need to go inside the donated suitcases. After my presentation Emily came right up and spoke to me. I remembered her from the first time I spoke at a Step Up event in her home. On that occasion, I looked around the room and noticed that she was sitting on the stairs in her pajamas. She was 8 years old and it was clear to me that she was paying close attention to what I was saying.
This year she wanted to know more about the Suitcase Project and how she could help. As we talked, I was struck by how focused she was. I was delighted to receive an email from her after we spoke letting me know that she was ready to begin supporting the initiative. She requested a copy of the list that the Department of Children and Families had provided, detailing items that youngsters placed in foster care typically need when they visit with their social workers at the office. With her mother’s permission I sent it along. The next thing I knew there was an email was in my mail box saying she had two large boxes of items ready for me to pick up.
This is how she did it: She sent the Suitcase Project flyer to her neighbors, friends and family. She placed two large plastic bins with lids on her front porch. People bought things on the list and dropped them off at their convenience. When the bins were full she contacted me.
Today my family went over to Emily’s house to pick up the boxes. She opened the door and welcomed us with a big grin on her face. I felt such a rush of appreciation for this generous young girl. We looked at all of the items she had collected, talked about her strategies for getting people involved and filled up the suitcases with goodies. My husband took photos. As we left, I hugged her and told her this was just the beginning. That someday when she received awards for all of the wonderful work she will do in her lifetime I will be there saying, “I knew Emily when she was 10 years old and just starting out on her path!”
Driving down the road I turned to my 12 year old and said, “Imagine what would be possible if we had 100 Emilys on our team!” She said, “Imagine if we had 1,000. The problem would be solved.”
We may not get 1,000 Emilys right away but one thing is for sure. Thanks to the leadership and compassion of one young 10 year old girl, there are children in foster care today who will not be needing trash bags or new toothbrushes, health care products, hair brushes, photo albums, art supplies, clothing and stuffed animals.
Thank you Emily!