West Side News

'Love the Kids, Love the Earth' helps foster children

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A family-focused event called "Love the Kids, Love the Earth" will help raise money so foster children in Franklin County can transport their belongings in duffel bags instead of trash bags.

Together We Rise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the way youth navigate through the foster care system in America, is sponsoring the fundraiser from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 21, at the shelter at Hannah Park, 6547 Clark State Road, Gahanna.

Shannon Ball, Together We Rise intern manager, said all proceeds from the event would go toward the Sweet Cases initiative, which provides foster children with duffel bags to transport their belongings and gives them something to hold onto as they transition and move through the system.

"It's not just a duffel bag but a comfort package," she said. "We've been contacting agencies in Columbus so we can add items like hygiene kits and, sometimes, coloring books in the bags."

Ball said the foster system has become privatized, so it's difficult to estimate the number of foster children in Franklin County.

"Nationally, there are over 400,000 children," she said. "Franklin County is one of the biggest counties in Ohio for children in foster care."

Together We Rise was founded in 2008 by Danny Mendoza, who was a 19-year-old college student in California trying to help a relative.

"I found out my 9-year-old cousin was living in a car, and I tried to help him," he said. "I wasn't aware of foster care. I found out a bunch of bad stuff about foster care. I wasn't able to help him because I was too young, I was told I needed to be 21. I felt I was helpless."

It was then that Mendoza decided to start his own organization with his college friends.

"It started from there," he said. "I feel like my life is meaningless if I don't help these kids."

Together We Rise offers programs that target children of all ages in the foster care system. The programs include Sweet Cases for ages 4-10; sports programs for ages 10-15; and build-a-bike for ages 13 and up.

Because the campaign for Sweet Cases is close to Earth Day on April 22 and a mission is to eliminate the use of trash bags for foster children, Ball said, families are invited to bring aluminum cans, old ink cartridges and cellphones that will be recycled.

The event is open to everyone in central Ohio, but entertainment is specifically geared to children ages 10 and younger.

To have access to entertainment activities, a $5 wristband will cover face painting, a magician, a bounce house, carnival-style games, balloons and crafts.

Other highlights will include music, a photo area, a raffle and food.

For more information about the organization, go online to TogetherWeRise.org.

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