Each year at our annual meeting, Concordance employees come together in a team building exercise that contributes to the goals of a health or human rights focused charity. For our Contribute 2019 event last month in St. Louis, we chose to support the ongoing efforts of an organization known as “Together We Rise”.
An estimated 250,000 children enter the foster care system each year. Foster children suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome at more than twice the rate of U.S. war veterans. Many children enter foster care with little to no personal belongings and are sometimes victims of abuse, poverty or neglect. As children move through the foster system, they're usually given trash bags to carry what few belongings they have.
Together We Rise (TWR), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is comprised of motivated young adults and former foster youth. “Our vision is to improve the lives of children in foster care, who often find themselves forgotten and neglected by the public. We collaborate with individuals, companies and community partners to bring resources to foster youth, giving them a brighter future, a sense of normalcy and belonging,” states their leadership. “We use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system and work with hundreds of foster agencies, social workers, CASA advocates, and other partners to transform the way kids experience foster care.”
The TWR foundation has developed programs that allow people who cannot become foster parents to still have a meaningful and effective impact of the lives of foster children. Through these programs, TWR has provided thousands of foster youth across the country with new bicycles, skateboards, college supplies and their signature “sweet cases” so that children do not have to travel from home to home with their belongings in a trash bag.
Teams of 10 were created, intermixing over 200 Concordance employees so that they were able to work with people from different states, different roles, different backgrounds and really get to know each other through a series of questions that made them search for what their team had in common. After completing the questionnaires with their teammates and presenting their (sometimes hilarious) commonalities to the group, each team was tasked with completing five Sweet Cases and five Birthday Boxes.
For the Sweet Cases, our employees decorated over 100 duffle bags with uplifting messages and fun drawings. Then employees completed each case by filling them with a teddy bear and blanket, a hygiene kit, and a coloring book with crayons.
“What so many people don’t know is that, when a child enters foster care – after being taken from their home and their family – they are given trash bags to pack the few belongings they are able to take with them. Which can make them feel even more dejected and alone,” explains Caitlin Jasper Jelks, Marketing Manager of Creative Services and lead planner for the Concordance team building event. “Finding an organization like TWR that allowed us to make an impact on these kids, at such a pivotal time in their lives, well - it was awesome.”
While half our attendees completed the Sweet Cases, the other half worked to decorate and fill 105 Birthday Boxes, ensuring that no matter where a child is in the foster care system, they are able to celebrate their birthday. Filled with party supplies and banners, candy, gift cards and loads of fun, these Birthday Boxes also included hand written cards from our attendees.
TWR works with agencies across the nation to make sure that the efforts of volunteers stay local; in doing so, they were able to pair us with the Annie Malone Children & Family Service Center, one of the oldest and largest social agencies in greater St. Louis.
Through this team building event, Concordance was able to positively impact the lives of over 200 area foster children and, through the sale of special “Contribute 2019” t-shirts, we also donated over $700 in cash to help with the day-to-day needs of the center.
“Watching sales people, accountants, contracting professionals and people from all types of analytical backgrounds, come together and focus so much time and attention on decorating bags and boxes for children was so uplifting,” shares Michelle Clouse, VP of Customer Experience at Concordance and planning committee member for the Contribute 2019 event. “Reading the heart-felt, motivational messages that our employees wrote on the Sweet Cases [and in the birthday cards] just brought tears to my eyes. Those positive messages and pictures will be there for these foster kids when they need them most.”
More About TWR
In addition to offering programs like Sweet Case and Birthday Boxes, Together We Rise also works tirelessly to support foster children in a multitude of ways. They hold reunification events across the country to bring siblings together for a day of bonding, as they are often separated in the foster care system. TWR helps provide free photographers to families adopting through foster care, thanks to a nationwide network of volunteer photographers.
The organization supports foster children as they age-out and head to college through their Foster Love scholarships, providing college funds and supplies, helping students move into their dorms, and so much more. Every single day, in one way or another, TWR makes a positive impact in the lives of the 500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system.