Luggage With Love

September 26, 2018

Luggage With Love: Citizen’s Advisory Boards adds new program to help foster kids in Norman

by Lindsay Cuomo

For the hundreds of children in foster care in Cleveland County, the Citizens’ Advisory Board is a lifeline for support during traumatic times.

The agency began nearly 30 years ago with the simple goal of fulfill the Christmas wish lists for foster care children.

In its inaugural year, the Citizens’ Advisory Board (CAB) collected money to fulfill the wishes of 69 children, and as community support for the program has grown, so has the nonprofit’s impact. In fact, last year’s Secret Santa program fulfilled more than 774 Christmas wishes.

The program has consistently sought ways to meet any need foster children face.

“Have you ever heard of a faith-based budget?” said Jaci Williams, the organization’s first president and current assistant treasurer. “Well, the Norman community is amazing. We know that if we need something, we just have to go out and ask.”

Today, CAB’s impact reaches beyond the holiday season. Over the years, CAB has grown to include a special needs program which provides for year-round needs like clothing and beds as well as enrichment activities.

“Our programs are all about the kids,” said Sue Durrett, CAB’s program coordinator.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a car seat, a bed, clothes, medication, registration for daycare or other costs like extracurricular activities. It’s incredible to get to meet these needs because these kids deserve the support, to see that they have value and that they matter, Durrett said.

Whether it was through Christmas gifts, emergency help and enrichment activities assistance, CAB was able to fulfill more than 2,400 requests last year from child welfare workers with the Cleveland County Department of Human Services.

That number is certain to grow with the addition of CAB’s newest endeavor, Luggage with Love, which is a program that anticipates serving five to 10 children per week. Under the program, CAB volunteers will deliver personalized duffle bags, packed with clothing and a book or toy to kids who are moving in with a foster family. The bag may serve as one small point of comfort for a child during a stressful and tumultuous time.

“Children are removed from their home when it is determined that they are at imminent risk of harm. Many times, this is done quickly and without much warning, adding further trauma to what the child has experienced,” said Durrett. “They feel like they have done something wrong. They lose everything.”

When a case worker makes a request for a client, a duffle is packed with the appropriate personal items and delivered within 24 hours of the child’s arrival. Teens are given a gift card to pick out clothing to fit their own tastes.

“If we are able to help the foster family with their immediate needs, the family can shift its focus to the thing that really matters, easing the children into their home,” Durrett said. “It also lets the case worker have access to what the child needs and helps them look toward a long-term plan.”

“We want to be a source that provides for the cracks in the state’s system,” Williams said. “The state has lots of programs, but they also have a lot of children in the foster care system and little money. We want to be a resource for whatever the children need, helping kids through a chaotic time in their lives.”

Luggage with Love isn’t a new program, however. The program began as a small outreach at Victory Family Church.

“When the organizers realized they were unable to continue, they asked us to take on the program,” Durrett said. “The nonprofit network is just amazing in Cleveland County. It takes collaboration between several nonprofits. We each fill our role and meet greater needs.”

Habitat for Humanity has been very supportive as CAB continues to develop the new program, Durrett said.

And, the Assistance League has helped take inventory and helped manage the clothing donations, Williams said. The Norman Cross Timbers Rotary Club has asked for a list of specific items to provide for the children.

More donations and volunteers are needed.

“We will be initiating in-kind drives to collect luggage and underwear,” Durrett said. “Scout groups, churches and businesses can collect much-needed items by requesting a list of current needs or do an item drive for new socks and underwear. We also have a baby registry at Amazon and Walmart under Luggage with Love or CAB. Cash donations are always accepted.”

For more information, visit – BSM