Children in West Virginia's foster care system received an extra measure of support last week from a place one might not expect. Inmates at St. Marys Correctional Center designed and made more than 500 bags in which kids can pack their belongings. Female inmates at Lakin Correctional Center made and donated more than 500 blankets. Nonprofit group Mission West Virginia gratefully accepted the donation from approximately two dozen inmates in St. Marys, who had a very good reason for taking on the project.
"It's meant a lot to all of us guys, to be able to give back and maybe help a child not end up in a place like this," said one.
In fact, according to Mission West Virginia Public Relations Director Carrie Dawson, a child who ages out of the foster care system at 18, as opposed to returning to his or her biological family or being adopted, has a much higher likelihood of ending up either homeless or in jail. Foster care is temporary, as Dawson explained. The plan is for kids to return to their homes. But of the 4,000 children in the system now, 1,000 have seen their parents lose their rights, and are therefore eligible for adoption.
Those kids - of all ages - are at tremendous risk, through no fault of their own, and deserve as much support as we are able to give. While the call to adopt may not be one most of us are willing or able to answer, smaller gestures can still make a big difference. Mission West Virginia accepts donations of new or gently used luggage or duffel bags - if possible, filled with items such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair brushes and combs, books, crayons, coloring books, flashlights, other toiletries, non-perishable snacks and even disposable cameras with small photo albums.
"A lot of these kids don't have pictures from their own childhoods," Dawson said.
The cameras might give them a chance to have fun taking pictures with friends or their foster families, documenting new experiences and creating memories.
Mission West Virginia can provide more information about the needs of these kids, and drop-off locations for donations, at (866) CALL-MWV (866-225-5698).
Let us make sure these children know they have an entire state full of people to count on, and that they are not forgotten.