When 9-year-old James was removed from his home last summer, he had just enough time to toss his stuffed monkey, a pair of pajamas and a few days’ worth of clothing into a plastic garbage bag. He left everything else behind. As the new school year approached, James needed everything — from clothing and shoes to a backpack and school supplies. Since the state compensates foster caregivers for just a fraction of the cost of raising a child, James’ foster family faced an expense that the family budget just couldn’t absorb.
That’s why Treehouse runs the Wearhouse, a free store for children living in foster care.
Since 1988, Treehouse has filled the gaps for kids in foster care, providing services that no other agency addresses: money for extracurricular activities and summer camp, tutoring and college readiness training, resources to fully participate in the everyday activities of growing up, new clothing and supplies to help them fit in at school.
No child enters foster care by choice. Kids like James are forced into the system when their homes become chaotic, unstable and dangerous. Each child who enters foster care has a unique and tragic story, but parental poverty, substance abuse and mental illness play a role in most of them.
When kids enter the foster care system, they don’t stop being kids. But they do face challenges most kids can’t imagine. Foster kids change home placements an average of once or twice each year they’re in care, and they can change schools just as often. Statistically speaking, living in foster care decreases their likelihood of finishing high school and it puts college nearly out of reach. Foster care alumni face significant challenges in the areas of mental health, education, employment and finances.
Treehouse touches lives and helps change the future for children living in foster care in King County. But we don’t do it alone. We are fortunate to live in a community that embraces these children who are so easily overlooked. Our support comes from foundations, businesses, communities of faith and many, many families and individuals across the region.
We also receive tremendous support from schools and students, and these partnerships are among our most important. When they engage with Treehouse, students cultivate empathy and gain a sense of their own power to affect change. Over and over again, students tell me that working with Treehouse teaches them that a small effort can make a big difference in someone else’s life. It’s a lesson that lasts a lifetime.
There are as many ways to bring Treehouse into your child’s school as there are students with ideas. Here are a few examples:
- Host a donation drive.
Kids can help other kids by collecting essentials for kids in foster care. Bellevue’s Sacred Heart School collects hundreds of new pairs of shoes for foster kids each year. Woodinville Montessori School also holds a shoe drive, which it integrates into the school’s curriculum, with students tracking the drive’s progress on bar charts and practicing leadership skills.
- Give your project impact.
For her senior culminating project at Mercer Island High School, Kelly Rowe conquered her fear of public speaking and reached out to groups of peers to teach about foster care, inspiring students to donate items for kids participating in the Treehouse Summer Camp program. She applied for and received a grant to purchase duffel bags, and filled those bags with the donated goods, giving 20 foster kids everything they needed for camp.
- Volunteer together.
When students volunteer together at Treehouse, they share an experience that strengthens their connection to each other and to the community. Stacie Cone, who coordinates service-learning experiences for students at Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences, says volunteering at Treehouse gives her students real-world context for classroom civics lessons and offers them a tremendous opportunity “to connect across differences — with each other and with kids who are living in foster care.”
Students can support Treehouse and help kids like James by organizing activities as small as penny drives and as large as school carnivals — and everything in between. We’re here to help in any way we can, from speaking at a school assembly or in a classroom, to helping you find the best way you can help make a difference in the lives of some very deserving kids.