Shufelt: for foster children, Thanksgiving is often just another Thursday

For me, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

It’s a day we gather with family and friends, and express gratitude for the blessings we’ve been given. Around our table, and I hope at most of yours, the biggest “thank you” is for that circle of people — parents, children, friends and others who are the core of our lives.

Dan Shufelt (Arizona Helping Hands)

Dan Shufelt

The people we share with, support, love and honor every day of the year. Thanksgiving is an outward opportunity to say, “I am grateful, I appreciate you.”

At Arizona Helping Hands, we provide basic essential items to children in Arizona’s foster care system. We meet children every day of the week whose lives have been disrupted by trauma, by abuse, by ignorant adults. Children who are so in need of a caring adult to make an impact in their lives.

Children for whom Thanksgiving has a different — or in some cases — no meaning.

Can you imagine the lives of some of the children we’ve met recently? A little 5 year-old boy removed from a house with 20 animals, living in filth — he didn’t even know how to use the toilet. Or Laura, a beautiful young lady who survived a life in a Mexican orphanage followed by years in foster homes that just didn’t quite work for her.

There are many children in foster care who are crying out for love and affection. They need that one caring adult who will make a difference in their lives, who can give these kids someone to say, “thank you” to on the fourth Thursday in November.

Until then, their thanks are for other things, items that most of us take for granted. Items like a bed — a safe place to sleep. Or a birthday present, a celebration of your existence.

I shared with Laura our Birthday Dreams program where volunteers prepare unique, hand-decorated packages for children in foster care. Laura told me that it’s so hard to describe how important this program is for these boys and girls. When Laura turned 16, her caseworker and therapist chipped in money to buy her a birthday cake.

This was the first time in her life that Laura’s birthday had even been acknowledged.

Arizona Helping Hands will provide 3,000 beds to children to sleep comfortably and safely in 2017. We will celebrate 1,800 birthdays for kids like Laura whose birthdays often come and go unnoticed. And, we will support and assist the foster parents who are choosing to stand up and be that caring adult for children in need. Our Home Safety Licensing program will make it easier for 800 families to pass the state’s home inspection requirements to become licensed as a foster home.

A place where kids can find love and support.

When you dig into the turkey and fixings this Thanksgiving, give thanks for those who have made you who you are today. Give thanks for your family — mom, dad, kids, grandparents and others, and for your friends and support network who have surrounded you in a circle of love.

But remember the children out there who don’t have that One Caring Adult to give thanks for this year. Their little lives are relying on the compassion of our community, on people to step forward and say, “I care,” and “I will help.”

There are many ways you can help kids in foster care. You can support a charity like Arizona Helping Hands that works to make their lives better every day. The State of Arizona foster care tax credit allows for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to organizations like ours.

You can help and it will cost you nothing. You can donate items, volunteer and find other ways to make a difference. Or, you can choose to become that one caring adult — to become a foster parent or adopt a child in need of your love. A child who just might give thanks for you at next year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

I wish everyone a beautiful Thanksgiving, and hope that many more children will be able to give thanks for more than a bed or a birthday package — for a loving home filled with people who care about them.

Editor’s note: Mr. Shufelt is president & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands.


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