They worked with their Helping Hands, but the volunteers gave of their hearts.
In fact, Lawrence County Children and Youth Services director John Bout calls them “models of the heart of service.”
Still, Robert Lee and Eddie Bogaert, who organized a team of about 20 volunteers to sort and organize donations made to CYS, humbly view themselves as parents who just want to help others.
As foster parents to two young children, Lee and Bogaert became familiar with CYS and the organization’s needs.
“We live in the city and I teach in the city. We were looking for ways to help make the community a better place. Helping children have a better future seemed like a good place to start,” said Lee, a reading specialist and musical director in the New Castle Area School District, who also knew of the organization’s work through children in his classroom.
“We know how blessed and lucky we are and we wanted to make difference for those who may not be so fortunate,” added Bogaert, a supervisor at InfoCision. “So we reached out to John (Bout) about getting involved. We knew CYS and the children needed the support of the community.”
They also knew that although foster parents receive a per diem to help pay for food and clothing, children going into care usually arrive at their new homes with little but the clothes on their backs. So, the volunteers decided to take on the basement of CYS’s offices, an area filled with piles of boxes and plastic bins brimming with donated clothing, toys and other items.
“There was no rhyme or reason to it,” Lee explained. “If a caseworker needed to get a child something, they wouldn’t know where to look or what they had. We wanted to start by getting them organized.
“Most times when they go into foster care, they have nothing,” Lee continued. “We want them to feel that they’re cared for, not given castaway things in a garbage bag.”
Volunteers spent an entire Saturday last month shifting through items and sorting clothing by size and gender.
“There’s a clear vision of what we have and what is needed,” said Lee, adding that new items are preferred. “To me, that says so much without saying a lot. To give them something that’s theirs and only theirs. It tells a child we care about you and we love you.”
Next, the Helping Hands plan to tackle even more items housed in CYS’s attic, which Lee said “is just as atrocious.”
“I can’t thank the group enough,” said Bout, noting that CYS provided services, including foster care and other programming, to 1,670 children and 233 families last year.
Explaining that the volunteers form the core of CYS’s Helping Hands initiative, he added, “I was blown away by the compassion and heart of service of Eddie and Robert and the other volunteers.”
The work not only makes items easier to find for children being placed into foster care, but the newly organized donations will be part of the planned Hope and Help Days.
Bout explained that CYS intends to give families in need the opportunity to “shop” for free, offering some of the gently used and excess donations. And, while there may be excesses in some categories, both Bout and Lee noted that items for older children and teenagers are always needed.
“I hope that we help the kids in care grow up knowing they’re loved and that we’re here for them. Then, eventually, they’ll be the ones giving back to the community,” Lee said.
“I was born in a Third World country where we had no running water, and I lived in New York City where I saw people seriously hurt in violence on the subway,” added Bogaert, a native of the Dominican Republic. “Here, we live in a little oasis where there’s a sense of community and love. How can we not do everything we can to treasure and nourish that?”