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Luggage drive aims to help children in transition

Nov. 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

ONA -- They're not the easiest of days.

It's a difficult transition for a child who is removed from their home and put into the foster care system. Mission West Virginia Inc., the West Virginia Children's Home Society, and the office of U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin are trying to make it a little easier by helping them travel with ease.

They gathered at the Hovah Hall Underwood Children's Home in Ona to kick off the second year of their ongoing luggage collection drive dubbed "Give Thanks and Carry On."

The Carry On Campaign began in October 2010 as a collaborative, multi-agency partnership that includes the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Mission West Virginia, Inc., the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorney's Institute and the West Virginia Drug Endangered Children Task Force.

The campaign aims to support children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect by providing them items for their transition to the foster care system. New or gently used luggage, duffle bags and essential personal care items are needed.

Also needed are toothbrushes and toothpaste, hairbrushes/combs, toiletries, blankets, nonperishable snacks, stuffed animals, books/journals, crayons and coloring books, flashlights and disposable cameras.

They wanted to highlight this need during this time of giving thanks, and encourage people to think about it while they're out shopping and maybe throw a duffle bag in their cart and some toiletries to fill it up, Goodwin said Monday.

"We cannot have garbage bags as an acceptable form of luggage for kids making this transition, and that's what has happened," he said.

About 400 kids are placed in the foster care system each year, and there are about 1,000 waiting to be adopted, said Carrie Dawson, public relations director of Mission West Virginia.

"It's empowering for children to have their own toothbrush and snacks," Dawson said.

A small act of kindness can make a tremendous difference for kids' outlook during a traumatic time, Goodwin said.

"If they just know somebody cares, you can't imagine the impact such a small gesture can have," he said. The social cost of that child eventually going down the wrong path and ending up incarcerated is far greater than showing kindness on the front end, he said.

"It's easier to keep a kid on the right path," he said.

Melody Plumley, director at the Hovah Hall Underwood Children's Home, said she sees a noticeable difference for kids who are equipped with their own traveling gear and necessities. Garbage bags are not only awkward to carry but get caught on things and, unless they're heavy duty, are at risk of breaking open.

"Kids love having their own blankets. ... They love having their own stuffed animals," she said.

Since its inception in 2010, the campaign has collected more than 2,500 pieces of luggage, but they go quickly, Plumley said.

"We had probably 200 (bags and pieces of luggage) last time, and we went through them just like that," she said.

The campaign is ongoing throughout the year. To set up a drop-off, contact Plumley at the Hovah Hall Underwood Children's Home at 304-743-2345, or contact Carrie Dawson at Mission WV at 304-866-CALLMWV or email her at cdawson@missionwv.org.

Another way to help

The Hovah Hall Underwood Children's Home in Ona houses 15 children ages 10-18 in the custody of the state of West Virginia and waiting to transition into foster or adoptive homes. It's in need of funding for a fire escape so it can use the upper level of a new gym it has built. The upper level will provide study space and a computer lab for the kids at the home, but under state code cannot be used until it has a fire escape, which has a price tag upward of $40,000, home director Melody Plumley said.

Dutch Miller Kia is helping out. It provided a paid advertisement to spread the word about a fundraising campaign for the home, and it's making it simple to donate via Paypal at www.dutchmillerkia.com. Any and all size donations are welcome, she said.

"It's wonderful. Their generosity is amazing," Plumley said.

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