Portland, OR

Howard's Heart provides holiday cheer for teens in foster care

Rose Bak

The Portland-based non-profit focuses efforts on needs that are not provided by the foster care system.

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Photo courtesy of Howard's Heart

The holidays can be hard for many people, but for kids in foster care, the season is not always happy. Separation from family, the feeling of being an outsider, and not being able to participate in holiday traditions make kids feel even more isolated.

That’s why local nonprofit Howard’s Heart is once again organizing a holiday gift drive for kids in foster care.

“I hate Christmas. It’s just a reminder of what I don’t have.” -- Youth served by Howard’s Heart

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Howard's Heart Founder Amy Bunker and Operations Director Jennifer BolingPhoto courtesy of Howard's Heart

What is Howard’s Heart?

Founded in 2018, Howard’s Heart focuses on individuals in foster care who are age twelve and older. This is because teens often have needs that are more specific than younger kids, harder to find, more expensive, and harder to fund. As Howards Heart Operation Director Jennifer Boling explained,

“Everyone’s down to buy a cute outfit for a four-year-old and that’s great – we need that too! But it’s significantly harder to find funding to send a teen on a school trip, for example.”

While foster parents receive payment from the state for a youth’s care, those payments are very low and are intended to cover the cost of food and shelter. There is no additional funding provided to foster parents for “extras” like new clothing, hobby items, entertainment, or school supplies.

Kids in foster care are only eligible for a one-time clothing voucher for the entirety of their case, which is often several years.

To address this, Howard’s Heart provides a variety of support for teens including culturally specific hygiene supplies, musical instruments, funding youth activities, clothes that are not hand-me-downs, bikes, backpacks, school supplies, and more. They also help newly emancipated youth leaving the foster care system find what they need to furnish apartments.

There’s no cookie-cutter approach here – Howard’s Heart provides individualized options to each and every youth they work with.

Boling adds that it’s important that people understand that kids are not in foster care because they are “bad kids” or “delinquents”.

“Youth in foster care face overwhelming odds and dream gigantic dreams. They want what every teen wants – to fit in, to feel safe, to spread their winds, and to be loved unconditionally.”

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Photo courtesy of Howard's Heart

Christmas Gift Drive Scheduled

Howard’s Heart’s largest event of the year is their Holiday Gift Drive for teens. They talk to each of the youth they work with – typically about 350 a year – and ask them for their wish list.

Popular requests are Bluetooth headphones, earbuds, gaming systems, and comfort items like fuzzy blankets.

The top request is for gift cards. Teens prefer to shop for themselves when possible, and gift cards to stores like Target, Nike, DSW, GameStop, Forever 21, Ulta, Sephora, Amazon, and Fred Meyer are always in high demand. Gift cards for fast food locations are also welcome.

“This is the first time I’ve had adults ask me about my needs in foster care and actually listen to my answers.” -- Youth served by Howard’s Heart

The lists are then posted in the Howard’s Heart Facebook group as well as on their website and via an Amazon wishlist to give donors an opportunity to support youth in the way that works for them.

You can support the Holiday gift drive in one of four ways:

  1. Visit the Howard's Heart Facebook page and choose a teen to sponsor
  2. Hold a donation drive at your workplace, church, or community group
  3. Donate cash or gift cards to Howard's Heart to fill pressing requests
  4. Volunteer to help wrap and distribute gifts

Donations are being accepted through December 15th. All donations will go directly to youth in foster care.

“Thank you for making this holiday worthwhile.” -- Youth served by Howard’s Heart.

For more information on Howard’s Heart, visit their website.

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

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