Friends start program to help local foster kids
By Becky Uehling
Friends Stephanie Palu and Melissa Dolezal aren’t only co-workers at Viaero Wireless in Grant, but they are also friends with many similar interests. One of these interests is showing their care and compassion to foster children and the families who care for them.
Melissa’s family is a foster family, and over the years she has leaned on Stephanie for support during the daily struggles of helping children who are in foster care and working with the sometimes not-so-forgiving system of foster care in Nebraska.
While attending a school function in Colorado Springs for her family, Stephanie was introduced to an idea that immediately tugged at her heart. It was a program that provided care backpacks to children in the foster care system.
She told Melissa about the program, and instantly the two knew it was something they wanted to start in Perkins County.
“We are calling the program ‘Hope for the Helpless’,” Stephanie said.
Melissa shared her own experiences of foster children being placed into her home with nearly nothing, including no extra clothing, hygiene items, or even a comfort item like a blanket or stuffed animal.
“Sometimes these children are taken from their home by authorities in the middle of the night and they don’t have time to pack a bag or grab a comfort item. This is what our program will help to provide,” Melissa said. “The cost of buying these items for the child will then fall on the foster family, who does not get assistance from the state to buy the items.”
She also said that the bag will become the possession of the child, and if that child is reunited with his or her family, or moved to a different foster family, the bag will go with them.
“It is something they can call their own and have ownership over,” Melissa said. “It’s something they can rely on always being the same, even if their situation is not.”
Working with Tami Cook of Elsie, a distributor for Thirty-One Bags who will help donate bags to the program, the two women plan to start gathering items to place in the bags designated for a variety of ages of kids from infants to teenagers. To do this, they are looking for community members and organizations to come alongside them as they begin gathering items.
One of the businesses that has already stepped up is Dollar General in Grant, which has committed to donating or discounting items to be used in the bags, Stephanie said.
Items do not need to be new, but should be in good condition and clean, Melissa said.
Parents who have clothing that their children have grown out of are encouraged to donate them to the program. They are also looking for items that an infant would need, including formula, diapers, wet wipes and toys. They will also take monetary donations.
The duo has made the state foster program and local foster care families aware of their service, and they ask other foster parents in Perkins County who they have not contacted to reach out to them if they are in need of a backpack.
“Everything will remain confidential,” Stephanie said.
The women are working now to turn the organization into a non-profit to allow all donations to be tax deductible. Eventually, they hope they can expand the program to serve other surrounding counties.
Those with items they would like to donate can drop them off at Viaero in Grant. Those with questions can reach Stephanie at 308-520-1876 or Melissa at 308-352-6958.