Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ridgecrest Elementary fifth-graders prepare duffel bags for foster children

LARGO — Three years ago, Ridgecrest Elementary School teacher Stephanie Willis took a new student under her wing. The girl, a foster child, was quiet, sullen and refused to complete any of her work.

She had, Willis said, "a big chip on her shoulder."

Two months later, with Willis' support, the 11-year-old started to participate in class, turn in her homework, improve her grades and — most important — smile.

That is, until the day she came into class, climbed onto Willis' lap and cried. The girl said she was moving to yet another foster home. To make things worse, she didn't have anything in which to carry her few possessions.

"She told me, 'They're going to put all my stuff in a trash bag and throw me out like yesterday's trash,' " Willis recalled. Willis, a 14-year veteran at Ridgecrest, appealed to other faculty members and found a suitcase for the girl.

"You would've thought that I'd given her gold," Willis recalled.

Now, Willis and her fifth-grade class are making sure other foster children have more than a trash bag to carry between foster homes.

Willis' classroom was transformed into a bustling assembly line Tuesday morning as she and 18 students stuffed 120 black duffel bags with shampoo, body wash, toothpaste and other supplies to be donated to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Child Protection Investigation Division and then delivered to children going from one foster home to another.

The project will give foster kids a sturdy bag for their possessions and provide useful necessities.

"Instead of a suitcase, now we're using duffel bags, but it's the same idea," Willis said. "These duffel bags will give the children a two-day head start for the time before their new foster parents can go out and buy them the things they need."

Wanda Jones-McCree, a CPI supervisor, said the duffel bags will be snapped up fast: About 70 children are removed from foster homes in Pinellas County each month, she said, and those children are usually in desperate need of even the most basic toiletries and supplies.

No other public school in Pinellas County has taken on a project like this one, Jones-McCree said.

Sandra Killian, the director of a foster care advocacy group called the Suncoast Voices for Children, helped oversee the project. She explained that children removed from their foster homes are typically given very little notice and are rarely allowed to bring more than a few items along with them.

In one instance, Killian said, CPI officers arrived at a foster home to pick up two children. Before the foster mother let the children go, she took off all their clothes. "You can have the kids, but you can't have the clothes — I paid for the clothes," Killian recalled the woman saying.

Jones-McCree explained that children in foster care tend to move from home to home for a variety of reasons: Sometimes, kids are placed in crowded foster homes as a quick fix, but are moved when a more permanent spot opens up. Other times, clashes in personality cause a child to be assigned to new foster parents.

Funding came from two sources: Willis got a $1,000 grant from the State Farm Companies Foundation. Then, Ridgecrest Elementary administrators organized a "penny war" and collected $800.

Willis said she's using the project to teach her fifth-graders about the foster care system. Her students just finished reading Pictures of Hollis Woods, a children's novel about a girl who moves from home to home within the system. On Tuesday afternoon, the class watched the movie adaptation of the book, which stars Sissy Spacek and Alfre Woodard.

Stephen Johnston, 12, spent his morning zipping up black duffel bags, attaching tags to the straps and placing them in a pile. He said he was happy to have an opportunity to help kids who are in need.

"They get taken away from their parents, and they usually can't take anything with them — not even their stuffed animals," said Stephen, who lives in Largo. "Today was fun, because when we were done, I was thinking about all the kids that we're helping out."

Martine Powers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

Ridgecrest Elementary fifth-graders prepare duffel bags for foster children 06/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 9:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Percussionist rocks out with a blazing triangle solo during Florida Orchestra performance (w/video)

    Blogs

    Oh, the poor triangle. It's the orchestra equivalent of a rock band's tamborine, and such easy fodder for jokes.

    John Shaw performs a triangle solo.
  2. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza

    Retail

    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  3. Andy Serkis' directing debut 'Breathe' is not so inspiring

    Movies

    After such a revolutionary acting career, Andy Serkis should be expected to make an equally inventive directing debut. Breathe is anything but that.

    Clare Foy and Andrew Garfield star in Breathe as Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife, who pioneered disability rights and wheelchairs with ventilators. [Imaginarium]
  4. Federal judge blocks Trump's third travel ban

    A federal judge on Tuesday largely blocked the Trump administration from implementing the latest version of the president's controversial travel ban, setting up yet another legal showdown on the extent of the executive branch's powers when it comes to setting immigration policy.

    Protesters waved signs and chanted during a demonstration against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban outside a federal courthouse in Seattle in May. The third version of Trump's proposal was blocked by a federal judge Tuesday. [AP photo]
  5. The #BrooklynCow delighted Twitter for one glorious afternoon

    Blogs

    In the long tradition of social media delighting in news reports of a non-native animal running loose in an urban setting, Twitter, for a few blissful hours this afternoon, turned its collective …

    A bull was on the loose in Brooklyn for a little while on Tuesday afternoon.