TRENTON – They’ve been connecting wish-makers with wish-granters for 10 years. And while some anniversary celebrations are in the works, the One Simple Wish team in Trenton is working to give even a little bit of happiness to children – foster children – in need.
One Simple Wish founder and executive director Danielle Gletow and program manager Nicole Sumner had just come back from a meeting with the new acting commissioner of the state’s Department of Children of Families (the new-ish moniker for the scary-sounding DYFS), Christine Norbut Beyer.
“And I have never been so hopeful in the last 10 years than I am now, that we have leadership at the state who I believe is going to really make strides in changing that daunting [foster parenting] process,” Gletow said.
It’s an open secret that there simply aren’t enough foster homes, that the children waiting to be placed, even temporarily, far exceeds homes available. The process should be thorough and stringent, but with today’s families being pulled in different directions, and technology being what it is, the process of becoming a foster parent may soon enter the 21st century in New Jersey. Training that doesn’t involve VHS tapes and hours spent on Saturdays at an office training, but rather online training, for starters?
That’s a huge concern for Gletow, who adopted her daughter Mia, now 10, through the fostering process. Mia was placed with the Gletow’s at three-days old; Gletow discovered she was pregnant shortly thereafter with her daughter Lily. The girls are just shy of nine months apart.
In as many cases as possible, DCF workers try to reunite children with their families, and that does happen in about 80 percent of those cases. But 100 percent of the children who enter foster care have their lives upended, and their narratives don’t often have the media spotlight shining on them. And their needs and desires are as unique as they are.
Gletow worked in marketing, seeing companies spend millions of dollars developing loyalty programs to keep customers coming back to use their product or service. She wrote the business plan for One Simple Wish while on maternity leave with her daughter.
“If we had an ounce of these resources, this brainpower, this money, focused on things like ensuring that these kids in foster care had an opportunity to just be kids, or could connect them to lifelong support systems, we could really make a significant difference,” Gletow said. “And part of the problem is, people don’t know there’s a problem.”
She asked herself the question: how do I create a platform that welcomes everyone into the conversation?
One Simple Wish was her answer. It works like this: a social worker submits a wish on behalf of a child he or she works with. The One Simple Wish team vets the wish, and those wishes are placed on their website. The wishes come from foster children from about 40 states. The wishes range from money for a movie ticket to laptops for school to gaming systems. Visitors can search for wishes based on gender, age, location and price range. They complete their donation online, and the team gets that money or gift to the social worker, sometimes in a matter of hours. Visitors can also make donations to support the physical operation, which is located on South Broad Street in Trenton, or they can make a general donation for wishes, which the staff can apply as they see fit. They also take full and partially used gift cards.
“These are kids who are coming from really traumatizing experiences. And really, if the one thing that is going to make them feel a little bit better is pair of UGGs, there are so many people who can afford to buy you a pair of UGGs. Let’s put that need out in the universe and see if somebody wants to answer it,” Gletow said. “It was about looking to [the kids] and saying, ‘What do you want? What would make you happy?’ Not looking at adults and saying, ‘What do we think these kids really need,’ or ‘What do we think they should want?’ It was, ‘What do you want?’”
One Simple Wish also accepts the gift of time. Volunteers can contact them for more information.
The organization launched in December 2008 and just catered to New Jersey foster kids’ wishes. They’ve grown to include 40 states, and have four full-time and two part-time employees, all women.
And to celebrate its 10 years, One Simple Wish will be hosting several events throughout the year. “Wishful Drinking with One Simple Wish at Blooming Grove Inn” will take place from 10 a.m. to noon on April 22 at the inn, 234 West Upper Ferry Road in Ewing. Tickets are $45 that include unlimited mimosas served in a “wishful drinking” glass. Tickets are available at onesimplewish.org/wishfuldrinking422.
“I think foster care is one of those issues that doesn’t get a lot of attention because of who it impacts. If you look at causes like breast cancer awareness, childhood diabetes, childhood cancer, autism, these are all issues everybody talks about and cares about because, it could be you. It could be your kids, it could be your nephew, your niece, your neighbor’s kid,” Gletow said. “Foster care is like America’s dirty little secret. We don’t talk about it because for most of suburban, middle-class America, foster care doesn’t matter. …So unfortunately you’ve got a whole bunch of kids who are already dealing with issues that marginalize them – poverty, drug abuse, incarceration, generational poverty – and now on top of it, they’re put into a foster care system. So they already didn’t have much of a say, and now you’ve made it even more challenging, because now they don’t even have those adults who were constants in their lives, whether those constants were good or bad, those constants have been removed.”
More than 500,000 children enter the foster care system in each in the United States. Thousands of them will stay in that system: they can’t go back home, and they won’t be adopted. Foster families receive a subsidy of about $1,000/month for boarding a child, with an additional small clothing allowance, according to Foster and Adoptive Family Services. It’s the extras that often aren’t budgeted for, things families often take for granted: a new pair of shoes, an afternoon at the movies. If a trip to the movie theater or a pair of the latest, fashionable sneakers would make a foster child happy, and if someone out in the universe can afford to and wants to buy it for them…they can visit onesimplewish.org.