Birthdays can be tough days for kids in foster care

Birthdays can be tough days for kids in foster care
 
In a recent radio interview, Ron Adelson – the CEO of Aid to Adoption to Special Kids – made the comment that birthdays and holidays were the most difficult days of the year for kids in foster care.  What a truly sad fact – days that should be filled with joy and celebration instead conjure up negative feelings for these kids.
 
For some children we’ve met it’s a feeling of disconnection – my family has changed, my mom, my brothers and sisters are in a different place – something’s missing, and a birthday can bring that to the forefront.  For others, family circumstances led to your birthday being a non-event, just another day in a life filled with trauma and difficulties.
 
How different than the families who hold parties of celebration at the Phoenix Zoo, LegoLand or in their own backyard.  It’s understandable why Ron’s comment is so true.  This must be a challenging day for so many of the 17,000+ boys and girls in Arizona’s foster care system.  Any day that looks at your personal story can be tough when you’re bio is filled with questions of doubt and questions of self worth.
 
Arizona Helping Hands began a program to celebrate the birthdays of kids in foster care in 2014.  Since its inception, 1,500+ children have received BIRTHDAY DREAM packages.  These gifts are customized by our amazing volunteers who fill individual orders from an on-line application submittal.  Foster parents will tell us that little Georgie has an upcoming birthday – he’s turning 6 and likes soccer and trains. Our dedicated workers will “shop” through our inventory of toys, books and sporting equipment to find a few items that match his age and gender.  Finding in the bins a toy train and a soccer ball is like hitting the lottery!  After filling Georgie’s order, and gift wrapping the chosen items, we will take a plain white shopping bag and decorate the outside with a message, perhaps “You Rock, Happy Birthday” or “Choo Choo – Celebrate your day”.  Of all the components of our birthday program, this is the most important.  The message to Georgie, and to hundreds of kids is that YOU ARE SPECIAL.  You’re birthday is truly a day to celebrate!
 
With the help of community support, especially donations made through utilization of Arizona’s foster care tax credit program, we recently expanded our Birthday Dreams program to include celebrating teenagers in foster care.  We fill rolling duffel bags with gift cards, sporting equipment, purses, books and more to make birthdays special for teenagers. The self esteem of children who are in foster care as teenagers can be especially low.  It’s our hope that by showing them the community cares about them we can lift them up and let them know how important they are to us.
 
I recently met a 13 year old who we were told has never celebrated a birthday.  How incredibly sad that a young boy who has survived an extremely difficult upbringing has never had a day to call his.  How many others have felt the same?
 
Arizona Helping Hands is constantly in need of supplies to support this program.  We hold drives and events to collect new toys, books and more for kids 1 through 18.  With our teenager program, we now need gift card donations as well.
 
Working together our community can make sure that birthdays are not a day to dread for kids in foster care, but rather a day to celebrate, a day filled with BIRTHDAY DREAMS!
 
Arizona Helping Hands provides essential needs to kids in foster care.  The BIRTHDAY DREAMS program provides personalized birthday packages to children in foster care through their 18th birthday.  Learn more about Who we are, What we do and HOW YOU CAN HELP at www.azhelpinghands.org<http://www.azhelpinghands.org>.  Contact Dan Shufelt at dshufelt@azhelpinghands.org.