Foster children are given two garbage bags and 15 minutes to pack their belongings when they are relocated. When Christina Ryerson, Life Enrichment Manager at Waltonwood Lake Boone in Raleigh, and a group of her residents heard this, they took action. They assembled ten duffel bags to donate to the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. 

Jane, Sheila, Barbara, Rosebud, and Doyle, five ladies who reside at Waltonwood Lake Boone, a senior living facility, assembled the bags. They decorated and filled ten duffel bags with personal items for children in the foster care system for Random Acts of Kindness Month in February. These duffel bags were donated to the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina (CHS) at a luncheon on April 25. 

Ryerson found ‘Sweet Cases,’ a project of Foster Love, when she was researching service projects for the residents as part of Waltonwood’s ‘Kindness Rocks.’  Sweet Cases sent them the duffel bags and the items that go inside, as well as the panel to be decorated. The residents at Waltonwood decorated the bags, assembled the items inside, and added a few additional items to the bags, as well. 

Several of the ladies had deep personal connections to the project, as they had their own foster children. Barbara had two foster children through CHS and had just learned that CHS was the recipient of the donations when she attended the luncheon. Jane also had several foster children that she took in. 

“I had actually participated in the foster program in Richmond, that’s my hometown, and I was very interested in this, and it just was a real pleasure to do this project,” Jane told the Carolina Journal.

Doyle explained how the residents heard about the project and why she was excited to be involved. 

“Well, we heard from Christina,” Doyle told the Carolina Journal. “She got nice duffel bags. And these poor kids, when they went from place to place, they didn’t have anything to put their clothes in. They put them in a trash bag. We thought that was terrible. So when Christina suggested that we do this, we were all for it. And we thought they were real nice bags. We thought they were good and sturdy. And I’ll think children will be proud to own them.” 

Ryerson agreed.

“So when I saw that, I thought that would be a wonderful idea that you know, they could decorate the panels, and I got stencils,” she said. “I was like, we can definitely do this,  and you know, the bags have the panel, they get velcroed on, and then the stuff that came inside. Jane, while she was coloring, she started opening up about some of her foster children. They weren’t, I guess, technically foster children. She took them in. So, she wanted to make that distinction, but she mentioned, ‘Oh, yeah, I took in some children,’  […] and it became a one-on-one conversation, and I knew we had to do more. So that’s why we added supplemental things to the bags like water bottles, backpacks, flashlights, kids toothpaste, Rubik’s cube, and a bunch of other stuff.”

Rosebud, a former teacher, while not a foster mom herself, had seen a lot of kids in her classroom who were foster children. 

“When I saw how different they were, I thought, ‘What a great idea!’ And they were individualized; we didn’t really know the kids personally. There were so many different types of art to go on the bags, and then they could take that off if they didn’t like it, but I just love to do artwork like that,” Rosebud told the Carolina Journal. “I remembered when I was a teacher in special education, I taught a lot of foster children, and oftentimes they would come with bags with their belongings in bags, and they were teased, and laughed at —those things break my heart. And that was one of the reasons I thought I would love to do a project like this. It just makes me feel so good to see the joy that it could bring to a child.”

“I just love children, and it just made me happy to be able to make something for them,” Sheila told the Carolina Journal. 

Barbara, one of the residents involved, had two adopted children from CHS herself, which made this project so much more impactful. 

Christina Ryerson, with Jane and Barbara and Children’s Home Society donation luncheon.

“We were given this project when Christina started this [it], and she kept talking about the CHS,” Barbara told Carolina Journal.  “For some reason — I don’t know why; I’m usually very inquisitive — but I did not ask what CHS was. So, finally, when we went to the lovely luncheon, I found out it was the Children’s Home Society, which I have two adopted children from the children’s home. So, it really hit home with me. So any projects that they have, I would like to be as involved as I can be. It would mean a lot.”

CHS receives ten placement calls a day, but can only has resources to accept two. This means that at least eight children a day are sleeping in a DHS office or somewhere else. Ryerson took two ladies, Jane and Barbara, to the luncheon to donate the bags. 

“Jane actually turned to the woman from CHS and said, ‘So what are you going to have us do next to help?’” said Ryerson. “My title is Life Enrichment Manager, but they also want to enrich lives. It’s like a ripple effect. It’s this beautiful ripple effect that kindness creates, and it’s free. I mean, they literally just spent time, you know, coloring and, you know, memory care, assembly lining, the items and things like that, but it was definitely a worthwhile project.” 

According to CHS there are approximately 11,000 children in foster care in North Carolina and only 5,400 foster homes, representing a critical shortage of foster parents to help as these children transition fro permanent care environments. You can learn more about Children’s Home Society here.