UNION, NJ – A Kawameeh School student, who has been in the foster care system for several years, was the inspiration behind a project for seventh-grade students at the school recently.

Students and staff raised $3,200 from candy sales and teacher dress down days.  Seven hundred dollars was donated by the Golden Phoenix CrossFit gym in Kenilworth via a fundraising workout event.   The funds were used to purchase items for kids in foster care.  Teacher Alicia

“The pain that some kids go through has inspired me and makes me think I can do better,” said the Kawameeh Middle School 13-year old student who has been in the foster care program for more than three years.  He said he did not do well in sixth- and seventh-grade, but now is a second honor roll student in eighth-grade “because I thought more of what I can do.  Every day I’m living my life knowing that the next day I will do better.”  He said his foster family has “helped him so much, and they keep on helping me, and I push forward.”

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The seventh-grade students decorated the bags and wrote short, inspirational messages on them.  “Kids in foster care sometimes move around with their belongings in garbage bags,” said Language Arts teacher Erik Gabriel.  “These duffle bags let them know their possessions are not trash.”

Each duffle bag was packed with a blanket, stuffed animal, coloring book and crayons, a hat and gloves, and personal care (toothbrush, paste) items.  The bags are geared toward children six- to ten-years of age.  The bags will be sent to local foster care agencies for distribution.  The bags and items were provided by Together We Rise, an organization that advocates for kids in foster care.

“I think it’s very important for us to expose our children to the value of charity on a daily basis,” said Principal Jason Malanda.  “It’s important they see people less fortunate than themselves, understand their experiences and learn the meaning of giving.”

Gabriel said in their Language Arts classes, students are learning about turning points in children’s lives, what can cause sudden changes in someone’s life, and about kids in foster care.  He said students read books on the subject, including Langston Hughes’ short story, “Thank You, Ma’m” and the novel “The Outsiders”.  “When kids are at a turning point in life, they can go either way,” said Gabriel.  “We want them to see the right way.”

“We also want to teach kids to advocate,” said Gabriel, “and we want to give them the opportunities to do so.”