On a frigid December day, 28 Greeley students and three chaperones loaded onto a bright yellow school bus en route to HeartShare St. Vincent’s Services (HSVS) in Brooklyn. The high-spirited group was going to help spread holiday cheer to foster children. These students were part of a club called Friends of Foster Care (FFC) that launched this past fall at Greeley. It is a club that undertakes various forms of volunteer work for the Foster Children of New York, partnered with HSVS, a foster care organization in Brooklyn, New York.
I decided to create this club, after going on a service trip to Peru this past summer, visiting a number of orphanages over several weeks. The orphanages specialized in caring for the mentally and physically disabled ranging in age from infants to teens. After working with orphans there, I thought, “why does this only have to be a short-term project only done internationally and open to a small audience?” I reached out to many foster care organizations in the area. HSVS was the most suitable organization for FFC.
After speaking with HSVS’ senior director of education Lauren Lee Pettiette Schwel, and Greeley’s Vice Principal Kyle Hosier, Friends of Foster Care was in motion. Greeley Sophomore Anna Kovalskaya says, “They are exceptionally caring for the kids, and are always striving to fulfill the needs of the foster children.” FFC quickly developed into the club it is today due to overwhelming support from Greeley’s student body, faculty, and HSVS’ staff. Each and every club member is an integral part in helping these children in need and the future of FFC looks bright.
FFC recently volunteered with HSVS for a holiday event being held for the foster children. The event provided gifts for the children and lots of fun activities. However, the main purpose of the event was to give the foster children time with their birth parents, who unfortunately cannot care for them. The members of FFC wrapped gifts, ran activity booths for the children such as face-painting and arts and crafts and took photos with the children at the photo booth. FFC’s advisor Samantha FortierVieni, a teacher at Greeley commented that “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students. Watching them all take on different roles at HeartShare reinforced the importance of community service in me.” Kovalskaya adds that “being able to make the kids smile, especially since many may have been going through tough times is what made this experience so rewarding.”
HeartShare’s cause has not always been apparent to New Castle’s community, but FFC is hoping to change that. “I have seen firsthand how the foster care system can help a child succeed and prosper when given the right environment so when I had the opportunity to advise this group, I was truly excited to continue raising awareness about this issue,” said FortierVieni. Even those who have not been able to see the foster care system first hand are getting involved. One of FFC’s executives, junior Alan Gu adds, “I saw a group of people addressing issues that were not necessarily thoroughly addressed. These students were truly trying to make a difference.”
However FFC’s mission did not stop at the holiday event. During club time, FFC embarks in ways to help those at HSVS directly from the Greeley classrooms. FFC members will soon begin to tutor foster children over Skype and create care packages for the students that HSVS is putting through college (through their “American Dream” Program). Much club time is spent planning volunteer trips and events as well. FFC’s next project will be this spring, running a carnival in the Bronx, to celebrate HeartShare’s opening of a shelter for homeless women and their children, created to prevent these children from having to fall under the foster care system. As Gu remarks, “to go to HeartShare and see the smiles on their faces, that is an unparalleled feeling of joy.”