For nearly three years I have been helping childrenin foster care and shelters across Massachusetts. My initial effort, "Erin'sAfghans," began as an individual 4-H project with the goal of creating 200personalized afghans for children in foster care so they could have something totake with them and call their own.
To reach this goal, I had to get theword out. I first set up an online newsletter asking for help from everyone Iknew. I sent pictures of me with my first afghans to local newspapers and wroteletters to churches to include my project in their newsletters. I then contactedbusinesses and schools.
I started hearing from people from all over thecountry who sent afghans and yarn as well as supportive emails and articles. SoonI had the 200 afghans and reset my goal at 1,000. I kept building my contacts andwent to schools and organizations to talk about my projects and teach needlework.To date, 3,654 afghans have been completed.
For months I heard aboutchildren entering foster care with only the clothes on their backs, and how theyoften travel from home to home with only a garbage bag to hold their fewbelongings. After too many of these stories, I wanted to do something to help. Icould not imagine what it would be like to be taken from your home with only agarbage bag's worth of possessions.
I started meeting with social workersto figure out what I could do to make kids' transition into foster care easier. Imet with sewers to design two types of carrying bags - a tote and a duffel - thatcould be sewed by even novices. The social workers helped me decide what shouldgo into the bags and within two months, I had launched my second ongoing project,"The Essential Care Packet Project."
The purpose of thisproject is to give a handmade carrying bag stocked with essential toiletries, abook and stuffed animal to children when they are first placed in foster care.After the toiletries are used, the children still have a bag for theirbelongings. So far, 4,650 placement bags have been created and delivered tofoster children.
In Massachusetts, 10,000 children are in the care ofthe state and 15-20 children enter (or re-enter) the foster care system each day.It has been my goal to supply all these children with an Essential Care Packet sothey will know there are people who care.
In addition to these twoprojects, for Make a Difference Day 2002, I put together a project called"Blankets and Bears," soliciting 500 yards of polar fleece from MaldenMills to make blankets for homeless children. I again requested the help of myvolunteers to sew and distribute the blankets. I also contacted CatholicCharities in my hometown and asked if we could use their facility as a storageand staging center. Last fall, with the help of a team of volunteers, I delivered 652 blankets and bears to children.
Now that I haveformed a committed group of volunteers, I have been able to run several otherone-time projects. Last January, I ran a special drive called "WinterWarmth." In just one month, we were able to deliver 173 hats, 56 scarves, 80pairs of mittens, 10 hat/ mitten sets and sweaters to needy children in onetown.
Because of the impact these projects have had, I want to ensuretheir continued success. This year I formed a nonprofit called Erin's HelpingHands to oversee all my community service work which will enable me to seekcorporate sponsors and grants.
As one social worker described the impactof my project, "Imagine suddenly being taken from your parents, in themiddle of the night, with no possessions and nowhere to go. Then, you receive abeautiful, handmade duffel bag containing a toothbrush, soap, clean underwear,and a teddy bear - all just for you. No matter where you end up, you willremember that small kindness. This is the difference between hope and despair,between isolation and comfort. And that is the difference Erin has made forhundreds of needy kids."
I also publish an online monthly newsletterand maintain the website www.massyouthinaction.org to maintain communicationbetween me and 400 volunteers, and to share my vision with others.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.