Giving foster kids a hand up

Local organizations collect ‘graduation baskets,’ for youth in need

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To learn more

To contribute items to the graduation baskets, contact Tori Watrous at torigrace44@gmail.com, or Annette McCabe at tunisartigirl@gmail.com.

To learn more about Embrace Washington, visit the organization’s Facebook page.

When most kids move out of their family home for the first time, parents are there to provide guidance and items needed for their first residence.

But kids who leave the foster care system after high school graduation often have a very different experience. They often have very few personal items with which to begin the second phase of their lives.

Thanks to the concern of several local non profits, these kids receive “graduation baskets,” filled with household items, so that they can get a good start.

Tori Watrous coordinates the effort through the MOMS Club of Camas/Washougal and Soroptimist International of Camas/Washougal. She got involved after hearing about the program through another volunteer organization, Embrace Washington. It is a team of leaders from faith communities that promotes awareness of the needs of children and young adults in the foster care system.

“I was volunteering there and learned that there was a group of people who gathered items for the baskets to help offer the foster kids some extra cushion and care,” she said. “I got involved after I learned that there were lots of donations for kids who came into the foster care system, but not those who were leaving.”

Through efforts by members of the MOMS Club, Grace Foursquare Church, House of Providence and a substantial donation by the Soroptimists, 25 baskets were filled.

The youth received their baskets during a recent “graduation” party. Watrous had the opportunity to attend, as did Annette McCabe, an outreach pastor, who coordinated efforts through Grace Foursquare Church.

“It was a pretty amazing experience,” Watrous said. “Some of these kids have been through hell and the fact they all made it to high school graduation is impressive,” she said. “One young man told us he had been in eight different high schools because of having to move foster homes. There were so many amazing stories of perseverance that they told. The caseworker told us stories as well, and it was just great to see them so happy now.”

It is also McCabe’s first year coordinating the effort. Grace Foursquare decided to participate after McCabe researched ways to help support the foster care system.

“Our church was very excited to be a part,” she said. “I hope in some small way the kids who receive the baskets know that their community believes in them and is celebrating with them.”

She attended the ceremony and described it as, “very inspiring.”

“The graduates had really risen above everything else and set their own courses for their lives,” she said. “It made me think that if more people saw this they would go sign up to foster youth.”

The large laundry baskets were given to the teens at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony, and were filled with towels, dishes, silverware, can openers, tool kids, wall clocks, pillowcases, cookware, laundry soap, scented candles, dry foods and canned goods.

Each graduate also received a $100 gift card from Kmart.

“They got a lot of fun stuff and it was nice to end the ceremony that way,” Watrous said.

Securing all of the items included two multi-hour shopping trips and a four-hour assembly party.

“This was our big service project for the year and I think it went very well,” Watrous said. “Seeing the kids finally get a few things that they need was great. We need to serve kids like this because they are our future.”

She noted that while there are lots of programs to help children in need, teens and young adults don’t always fare as well.

“It’s important that we make the effort to help them get off to a good start,” Watrous said. “They are just as important as children and need help, too.”

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