North Bergen students recently worked with a local non-profit to create bags packed with essentials that new foster kids might need, particularly the first night they are removed from their prior location.
“Children in Unity,” a program that describes its mission as to “get communities involved in spreading love and kindness throughout the foster care community,” held its annual packing event at the Uptown Library branch on March 22.
Students in CIU’s “Ambassadors of Kindness” program, from Robert Fulton School and Robert Fulton Annex, spent two hours creating 80 “unity bags.”
These are backpacks packed with new clothing, diapers, shampoos, toothpaste, toys, books, and other items, created for children newly entered into the foster care system.
“A lot of these children just come with the clothes on their back,” said CIU founder and teacher Ellen Begbie, who heads the Ambassador program at the Fulton School, including her fifth grade students.
“[The bags are] for right at the moment of their removal [from their prior location, into the system],” she said. “It’s to help them get through the first night.”
She also credited Jill Stein, who runs the Ambassador program at Fulton Annex, as instrumental in helping spread CIU’s message.
Ambassadors at Franklin No. 3 Elementary School and the student council at Horace Mann Elementary are also creating the bags, for foster children through Hudson, Passaic, Bergen, and Morris counties.
By April’s end, CIU and the North Bergen School District will have created 250 unity bags for foster kids ranging from infants to 18-year-olds. Since 2013, the organization has given away 850 bags.
Begbie’s own experiences as a foster parent inspired her to start the program. She officially adopted daughter Unity, 5, (inspiring CIU’s name) in March, after having fostered her in her home for the last three years. When Unity first arrived in Begbie’s home, she had few belongings, challenging Ellen and husband Christopher to work to meet her basic needs.
“I wanted to adopt,” Begbie said. “When she was placed in our home, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to adopt her when she became available, and we did.”
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, an organization which works to build better futures for disadvantaged U.S. children, New Jersey had among the highest rates of family placement for its foster youth in 2013, at 91 percent.
“What I like to say is, ‘Don’t let the world change your smile; let your smile change the world,’ ” said Emmely S., who has been an Ambassador for three years at the Fulton School with her classmates. “This program gave me a chance to help out the world. Seeing all these kids joining together to help is a wonderful experience.”
Emmely also has a foster cousin, and in her family, “we don’t treat her any different from any of us, because we’re all the same person.”
Student donates his allowance
“When I found out about Ambassadors, it really touched my heart, because it really was a kind thing to do,” added Ambassador Aidan P. Impressively, the generous youth was able to save up to around $130 in allowance money to donate to CIU.
Student Ambassador Anaya G. created a drawing for the project, borrowing from popular anime influences.
“I hope to see foster parents smile when they see these bags full of love.” – Evis, a student ambassador
She noted, “I was actually proud of me and everybody else, because we actually packed a lot of bags.”
“Since I was a little girl, my parents had always taught me that it’s better to give then to get,” said Ambassador Evis. “And ‘Children in Unity’ has been part of that. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can make a difference. I hope to see foster parents smile when they see these bags full of love.”
For more information on CIU, visit http://www.childreninunity.com/.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org