Lindsey & Reagan Koester Use MAD Grant to Support Area Children in Foster Care with “Hug Packs”
By: Lindsey & Reagan Koester
We certainly understand the importance of this directive to do our part during this difficult time for our country. For many of us teenagers, our social lives with peers has come to a halt as we are now simply surrounded by our siblings 24/7 instead. However, as we now find ourselves together at home, we have discovered spending time with each other has been a bright light for us during these unpredictable days.
In spite of this, there is more to our personal story behind the scenes. Life has certainly taught us over the years to not take each other or our loving family environment for granted.
New Family for Foster Children
“We need you to take in these two kids right away. They were found roaming the streets with no shoes and are very filthy. We have taken them from their home and they need to find foster care.” These were the words my aunt heard when she picked up the phone. For you see, we have two aunts and uncles along with a cousin that are foster parents in the area. They have helped countless children of all ages in harmful situations and tell how these children come with nothing of their own to provide a sense of security.
Over time, we have been exposed to dozens of foster children. We have become very attached to these children and treat them like they are our very own cousins. We play with them at family events and especially look forward to special times such as holidays and the 4-H summer fair. It is amazing to see their transition after being shown a loving home and extended family support. Proudly, we can now even call 4 of these children cousins as our aunt and uncle have been able to adopt them through foster care.
Without a doubt, we had seen the need to help foster children firsthand and wanted to do more for others in a similar situation.
We started reaching out to others and doing research to come up with ideas; we found that the average foster care child moves 7 times before the age of 18. Most of the time, these children are moving place to place carrying only a garbage bag of belongings. Therefore, we discovered the need for Hug Packs which provides each child with useful items such as toiletries, toys, and books. Plus, the Hug Pack includes a stuffed animal that can provide a sense of security for young children. These items are important to a child as they are removed from unsafe situations or move from foster home to foster home. We collaborated with The Standup Foundation to deliver the Hug Packs to various foster care facilities to distribute in Southwest Indiana.
We quickly founded Fun for Foster Families with the hope to provide these children with a piece of dignity during a time of great anxiety as they are removed and placed in new homes. We brainstormed on who we could get to help us and came up with the plan to host a ping pong tourney and games to recruit cousins and friends to help us assemble the Hug Packs.
However, reality set in as we quickly questioned, how will we fund our idea?
Make A Difference (MAD) Grants
We both attended St. Wendel School where service was an integral part of our education. Our 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dyson, exposed us to YR’s Make A Difference Grants program with a military care package service project. Now several years later, we were curious if this could be a potential avenue we could take to fund our very own project. The application guidelines were easy to understand, and we submitted a request. We have been fortunate to receive funding for three years. Bottom line, our project would not be possible without the $2,021.80 received through the Make A Difference Grant process. Over 300 individuals have been impacted including foster children, foster families, adult volunteers, and our peers. Furthermore, our peers indicated in follow-up evaluations that this motivated them to serve others. In addition, this current year we even collaborated with St. Wendel School teacher Mrs. Cadden and received food donations that we gave to a local food bank as recent research has indicated that once children age out of foster care, food insecurity is a proven challenge.
Call to Service
Between online schooling and creating the occasional TikTok, we have found that by appreciating time together our days are going by quickly. We are blessed to have a loving family and our best friend just down the hallway in our own home. However, as a community we must realize this is not the case for everyone in our hometown given the need for foster care.
There is a Chinese saying that goes: If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody in need. For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others. Without a doubt, this project has taught us that serving others is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.
During these challenging times, it is our choice to make it a habit to be happy. Getting started by serving others may just be the first step. How do YOU plan to make the most of this unique gift of time to make a difference for others?
Lindsey Koester is a sophomore at Purdue University majoring in nursing. Lindsey currently has an externship with Ascension St. Vincent, Evansville.