As I put together our daughter’s online wish list to share with family this last year I was reminded of how fortunate our kid is. She has multiple family members who look forward to buying her gifts for Christmas and her birthday, which is the day after Christmas. While most people feel sorry for our child, having to share her birthday with the biggest holiday of the year my husband and I know better. While she may not be spoiled rotten, there is no doubt she has more than enough to meet her wants and needs. While our daughter and all of my friend’s kids are indulged and never question their value or worth that is simply not the case for so many other children. Deserving of every opportunity afforded to my child, there are many that go without receiving anything new to wear much less a coveted toy to play with. It hardly seems fair yet it’s the reality for kids that are removed from their homes, oftentimes not allowed to take any personal belongings due to contamination by drugs like methamphetamine. Sadly, drug addiction affects every race, gender and even income bracket. While drugs are not always the culprit behind children landing in foster care it does make up a large portion of removals.
When a child is removed from their home and assigned a caseworker it could be any time of day or night. Thankfully that’s where The Rainbow Room steps in and offers much needed clothing, toiletries, comfort items and more to accommodate children in transition to foster care. Michelle Wells and Rosemary Torres sat down with me at the Harrison County location to bring me up to speed on the process, how The Rainbow Room came to be, what the needs are right here in our neighborhood and most importantly, how easy it is to make a difference in our community. Michelle is a nurse with a family of her own but she has a connection to children in the foster care system. Her Mom passed away when she was 6 years old and she subsequently bounced around, living with extended family. She remembers getting all her clothing second hand from garage sales and being teased in school for being poor. That experience is what inspires her to volunteer at The Rainbow Room located in the Health and Human Services building in Marshall, TX. Michelle is the only volunteer in Marshall and is responsible for coordinating and procuring donations for children newborn to age 18. She has taken an outdated and poorly organized system and completely reworked it to allow for more room to house donations and effectively help kids in need.
The Rainbow Room is not a new organization. First Lady, Laura Bush made it one of her initiatives during the early 1990’s. Recognizing that abused and neglected children needed basic necessities we take for granted every day she made a point to ensure there was a program in place across Texas. Marshall’s Rainbow Room is open 24/7 and is one of 19 covering the 23 counties in the East Texas Region. While not every county has a Rainbow Room of their own, the smaller counties share resources with larger ones. So how many kids are we talking about? Take a guess on a monthly basis, I’ll wait.
20-30 kids per month are removed in Marshall alone and the removal rate is going up every year. Multiply that by the 23 counties and you have a jaw dropping amount of children that are in need of help. So what constitutes a removal? It could be as simple as a parent not being able to afford basic necessities like electricity in order to provide a safe and healthy environment for their children. Methamphetamine and opiate addiction is far more prevalent than we want to think. Domestic violence, abuse and neglect are not uncommon. Sadly, there is a misconception that CPS wants to take kids away from their families. While it is the ultimate goal of CPS, the court system and foster parents to reunite children with their parents that is not always an option. Whenever possible The Rainbow Room donates items like smoke detectors or cleaning supplies for instance to help a child’s parents or family to meet basic safety requirements in order to keep kids with their families.
There is a board in place with 13 members that meet to discuss the needs of children, events, education, and outreach within the community. Recently 2 adoptions took place and the board was present, providing refreshments and support. There is a shortage of foster parents by about 30%. Once children are 10 years old their odds of getting adopted drop. It’s no secret many of these children suffer from abandonment issues or struggle with anger. All the more reason to support the mission behind The Rainbow Room. Imagine going to school alongside children like my own who have nice clothes, a full stomach and come home to a stable household when you have none of those things. Not only would you feel like your own family turned their backs on you, but it’s a slap in the face from your community as well. I know we can do better than that and I truly think it’s lack of awareness. I for one had no idea that over 100 children are in foster care over Christmas with another 50 or so at any given time. These kids deserve an opportunity to become more than their current circumstances.
The board helps out foster parents with costly items like braces and other out of pocket expenses. They do this through fundraising and donations received. Several businesses here in Marshall have generously donated to make these kid’s Christmas a little brighter. Simply put, these kids will grow up to be members of our society. Don’t we owe it to them to make them feel loved and valued so they can give back to their communities in a similar way rather than leave them as outcasts? Knowing what I do now, we can’t sit idly by as a family and allow the cycle of innocent children feeling like the world is against them to continue. Our daughter came with me to this interview and while I didn’t know how much she grasped from our meeting I was pleasantly surprised later that week. From the backseat she asked me why some kids don’t have families. Obviously I didn’t want to give her more information than an almost 6 year old could comprehend. I told her sometimes families fall on hard times and can’t afford to take care of their kids. She told me that when she grows up she wants a job where she can make enough money to take care of her family and other kids that need help. Our children are incredible sponges and if we teach and model empathy and kindness that is the standard they will have.
We volunteered to sponsor 2 siblings this Christmas and shopping for them has been a gift to us. It has opened up a conversation about wants versus needs. It has broadened our perspectives on the struggles right here in our tight knit community. It has made us all the more grateful for what we have, not just materially but the strength of our family as a unit. Our daughter donated to The Pet Place in Marshall in lieu of birthday gifts last year. This year she asked her party guests to bring supplies to help fill up The Rainbow Room. Commonly needed items include; diapers, wipes, car seats, pack n plays, new clothing, backpacks, toiletries and gift cards to local fast food places so the case worker can buy the child a meal while waiting for placement. For a complete list of supplies requested their Amazon wish list can be found here (click to visit Amazon).
Rosemary Torres, the Community Engagement Specialist told me every county is in need of donations. So if you are reading this you can help by sharing this information and reaching out to your local Rainbow Room. They are always looking for compassionate volunteers as well. I asked Rosemary if the situation felt hopeless at times. She told me they always have hope for making a difference or they wouldn’t be here. I had a hard time sleeping the night after our meeting. It was a combination of processing all that information Michelle and Rosemary shared coupled with the desire to get it out there and help spread awareness. While Christmas is always an ideal time to help, just like your own children, these kids need us all year long. Consider these options and sleep well tonight knowing you made a difference.