PHOTO: Pictured with all the Sweet Cases they purchased, stuffed and decorated for 100 foster and homeless children in Northern Monmouth County are RBR members of the Key Club, NHS, their advisors and representatives of the New Jersey Department of Children Protection and Permanency (DCPP). The latter came to collect the bags for their donation store.
They are (left to right) DCPP paralegal Tara Brady Rodriquez, DCPP paralegal Christina Suhl, and DCPP Resource Development Specialist Donna Weinbel, NHS Adviser Shalene McLaughlin; Sophie Navarro, Little Silver, Jorge Tapia, Red Bank, Nancy Cruz Pastrana, Red Bank, Key Club Advisor Christin Outwin; Giulia Nascimento, Red Bank and Amy Serrano, Red Bank.
LITTLE SILVER, NJ - Red Bank Regional High School (RBR) clubs and organizations are always busy around the holidays performing community service projects to make some children’s lives a little brighter. This year, two groups, Key Club (under advisement of Christin Outwin) and National Honor Society (NHS) (under advisement of Shalene McLaughlin) joined forces to purchase the contents and bags for Operation Sweet Cases destined for foster and homeless children in Monmouth County.
Christin Outwin explains, “I quite fortuitously discovered the charity when I was scanning sites for programs where the majority of donations go directly to the people in need. This one seemed to have a great track record of doing just that.”
She discovered the group “Together We Rise” a national charitable organization whose mission is to improve the experience and quality of life of young people passing through the state’s foster care system. Coincidently, RBR’s NHS Advisor Shalene McLaughlin had previously worked for the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) which is directly responsible for these children, and works closely with Together We Rise. The charity offers many ways that different people and groups can assist in their mission. Operation Sweet Cases most appealed to the RBR students.
Ms. McLaughlin had often witnessed children moving around with their possessions using makeshift bags for transport. Knowing how necessary this kindness was, she was very happy to have her students work with the Key Club on this service project.
The fundraising efforts of both clubs enabled them to purchase the cases and their contents-- a blanket, a teddy bear, art supplies and toiletries. All are possessions that could bring comfort and dignity to children as they moved from one placement to another.
Additionally, the students were able to create their own personal connection to their beneficiaries by decorating each bag. The bag alone represents dignity, a simple but honorable way to transport ones’ belongings.
NHS Vice President Galina Gordon explains, “For kids that might be constantly relocating from place to place, they get this case instead of a garbage bag to carry around their stuff. It lets them know they there are people out here who care about them.”
Key Club Secretary Amira Ibrahim added, “I thought this was a great idea the first I heard about it. I knew people who had been though foster care and they do not have a lot. Especially little kids, to get something personal, it will make them happy.”
Once the 100 bags were decorated and stuffed, they were personally turned over to three representatives of the North Monmouth County Division of the DCPP--Donna Weinbel, Resource Development Specialist, Christina Suhl, paralegal and Tara Brady Rodriquez, Family Team Meeting Coordinator and 2002 RBR Alumna--who visited RBR to pick them up.
It was nostalgic for Tara Brady to come home to her alma mater.
She stated, “I was actually in the Key Club and the Christian Fellowship of Athletes. I am not a bit surprised that RBR is doing this.”
Ms. Weinbel gratefully received the transfer of stuffed sweet cases stating, “I think this is fabulous because we are all about community support and this is just wonderful.”
Ms. Weinbel has been repurposing and decorating the areas allotted the DCPP in Northern Monmouth County since she was appointed to this position. She explains that at any time, over 250 young people could be under its protection from Long Branch up to Cliffwood Beach and out to Freehold. She has sought to make the spaces they visit much more inviting with cheerfully appointed walls, rugs and clean, safe toys. Everything is donated and the state employees work hand-in-glove with the charity for the welfare of the New Jersey’s children. The office, under Ms. Weinbel’s leadership, has also opened a store stocked with donations like the sweet cases. Called the “Shore Store” and decorated in the motif of the shore area it occupies, cheerful shelves contain all the essentials a child would need at any point in time. It is open seven days a week and 24 hours a day.
“It is all about dignity. That is what we are trying to do here,” Ms. Weinbel states.
On Tuesday, December 18 the RBR advisers received the following text from Donna Weinbel, “We had a one simple wish party for 40 children on Friday night. They all received the bags, and the kids were over the top. Thank you.”
For more information about Together We Rise, visit their website at . https://www.togetherwerise.org.