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Posted January 6, 2015

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Cleveland Students Create No-Sew Blankets for Former Foster Kids

The students' giving goes beyond the holiday season.

Each year, more than 23,000 young adults “age out” of the U.S. foster care system without connection to a family. When children turn 18 they are emancipated and left on their own with only their suitcase of clothes, often without housing, financial assistance or emotional support.

Understanding they are left without even the most basic essentials, a group of Cleveland Middle School students chose to use their 1+2 activity time to give back to this community, creating no-sew blankets for youth who have aged out of the foster care system.

The 1+2 activities are held once a month to give Cleveland students the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities in lieu of after-school clubs. Students can sign up for science, art, performance, or athletic-based clubs, among others. So while other students are participating in forensics club or learning karate, these students chose instead to take part in a community service activity.

“It sounded like fun, so I did this because I like to help people,” said eighth grader Ashley Montano. “It’s nice to know you’re doing good.”

To demonstrate the significance of their project, Krystal Goolsby, a UNM student who aged out of the foster care system and advocates on behalf of foster children, spoke to the middle schoolers to highlight the impact a blanket can have.

“Not everyone has a family like that, so it’s really great that you all are taking the time to make these blankets and care about other people,” Goolsby said. “These blankets are really special, and it’s really special to have something homemade that shows someone cares.”

To make the blankets, the students measure and align the fabric before cutting fringes and tying them together. On average, they complete two blankets per session for donation to the Heart Gallery Foundation of New Mexico, who then distribute them to youth.  Thus far, the extra-curricular program has been funded out of pocket from faculty sponsor Angela Adcox with additional support from Principal Susan LaBarge.

Adcox says she was motivated to start this project after learning of the statistics of youth who age out of foster care and the Heart Gallery Foundation.

“We were shown these stories of kids in foster cares, and it was just shocking and silence in the room,” Adcox said.

At any given moment, there are over 2,000 children in custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department due to abuse and neglect. More than half can return safely, home, but if there is no adoptive family identified, they say in foster care until they “age out” of the system at age 18.

According to the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, of those who age out of the foster care system: one in five will become homeless; only half will be employed at age 24; and less than three percent will earn a college degree.

In addition to the blankets, Heart Gallery Foundation provides grants for youth to purchase necessities such as computers, first month’s rent, or a bicycle. With community support, they also donate HOPE (Helping Other People Excel) Chests that includes household items and toiletries to help youth establish their first apartment. They also sponsor classes to teach youth cooking and life skills.

“It means so much to all the kids who get these blankets,” Goolsby said. “They love them and look forward to them.”

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