ESU, the Monroe County Children and Youth Services and Big Brothers and Big Sisters teamed up for the MLK Day of Service. Together they collected donations for foster children and to spread awareness about children in foster care and those who need companionship and guidance on Feb. 7.
Volunteers prepared “first-night kits” for children entering foster care. Many of the items were donated by the students, faculty, and staff of ESU.
Volunteers grabbed backpacks and stuffed them with first night essentials like toothpaste, soap, and toys for children who may not have these necessities as they transition into foster care, but that’s not all they need.
“The immediate thing they need are a warm blanket, teddy bear and pajamas. I like young kids in foster care to have a nightlight or flashlight, so they feel a level of safety,” said Monroe County Children and Youth Services Program Manager Diane Rogers.
“I want them to have comfort items when they enter into foster care. Once a child is in foster care awhile, we want them to have a real sense of normalcy.”
In Monroe County, there are 172 children in foster care, many of whom have benefited from events like the one held at ESU, Rogers said.
“I volunteered today just to give back on behalf of the community,” said Senior and Kappa Alpha Psi member Shaquwen Davis-Boone, “not to mention that I have the opportunity to offer volunteer services for my fraternity also and just put a good name out for everybody to support this movement.”
In addition to volunteers and Monroe Country Children and Youth Services, or MCCYS, staff preparing “first-night kits,” there were many booths where anyone could learn more about the organization and possibly make a positive impact on a child’s life.
One table had tiny cards in various colors where passersby could leave inspiring, confidential messages for children entering foster care, and another table displayed a banner that anyone could sign commemorating mentors who influenced their lives.
Another prominent organization at the event was the Monroe and Carbon County Big Brothers and Big Sisters, an organization dedicated to providing children who face adversity with the support of a mentor.
“I think it’s important thing in [our message] with the Martin Luther King activities because the slogan ‘The time is always right to do what is right’ is important for kids to see that adults think it’s the right time to help them always,” said Big Brothers, Big Sisters Program Specialist Brenna Courtright.
Courtright stressed the need for mentors in Monroe County, especially male mentors because the number of boys on the waitlist is high. Many people believe volunteering is time-consuming, but it’s not.
Community-based big brothers and sisters spend only four hours a month taking children out into the community, engaging in activities that both the mentor and the child enjoys. Some of the activities could be as simple as a stroll in a park because many children only want someone to talk to, Courtright said.
A Big Brother who was at the event described his as experience as a mentor as rewarding and one that money cannot buy; though when he first became a mentor, he was unsure and nervous.
“When I first become a big brother, I was 52, so I thought oh my god, I’m going to be like a big grandfather. I’m not going to be a big brother,” said Big Brother Ken Gustafson “We scheduled our first meeting, and I went and picked [my little brother] up and we went to the Delaware Water Gap and looked over the river and just talked. He was very quiet.”
Later that same day, Ken took his little brother to the Gem and Keystone, the first place where he and his little brother went to eat. The restaurant became the anniversary spot of their mentor, mentee relationship, one that spans six-years and still exists today, according to Ken.
Gustafson has a creed that he follows as a mentor, and they are: you love them, you model and then you coach. He believes this model, along with his monthly visits, compassion, and guidance, has allowed their relationship to flourish.
“He graduated [high school], but now, we’re really good friends. In the world of phone, we text a lot. We’re both die-hard Steeler fans, and so, this year we went down to see the Eagles play the Steelers, but the point is we built this relationship, and we’ll be friends forever,” Gustafson said.
Rogers, Courtright, and Gustafson said the event was not only to collect donations but to spread awareness about children in foster care and those who do not have a strong social support system at home. The children in the area need help from the local community, and this event helped spread the message.
“Here at ESU, there’s a lot of people whether teachers, staff or students who probably have some personal experience with foster care. It’s a system that’s broken, but it gets better the more we put into it. We need people to advocate. We are thankful to ESU for helping us with this to raise awareness and all the great donations,” Rogers said.
If you want to help Children and Youth Services or become a mentor for Big Brothers and Big Sisters, visit:
www.monroecountypa.gov/Dept/CY and www.bbbs.org/
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