When funding for foster supportive services was cut in response to the economic recession of 2008, foster families across Arizona were the first to experience the increased burden of opening their homes to children in need. Allowances for emergency clothing needs, diapers, school supplies and books were suddenly half of what they were just one year earlier and the result was an emergence of the kinds of disturbing scenarios we have witnessed over the past few years – fewer foster homes opening, children sleeping in DCS offices, and teenagers being left to age-out of institutionalized group homes. A patchwork of community volunteers and foster parents came together to collect donations of clothing and basic needs for these families but the effort was overwhelming, time-consuming, and expensive. Mesa United Way saw this challenge and stepped in to help with the creation of Helen’s Hope Chest in 2009.
Named in honor of the late Helen Simmons, a Phoenix resident who grew up in New York City orphanages during the Great Depression, Helen’s Hope Chest is a place where children and teens entering the foster care system with very few or no personal items can come to receive basic necessities and a comfortable start in their new home at no cost. Set up like any normal boutique retail store, our kids have the unique opportunity to make their own clothing selections with dignity and enjoy a typical “shopping” experience. This ensures that our clients not only leave with what they need to get through the school week but have also had a chance to bond and build strong, positive relationships with their new foster parents or kinship guardians.
Through a combination of corporate partners, grants, in-kind as well as financial donors, and a dedicated team of more than 50 volunteers, we are able to serve 700-800 clients each month.
JaKelle’s Christmas Box
When JaKelle Westergard passed away tragically in 2012 at the age of 17, her family knew that they wanted to share her giving spirit and Christmas cheer with those who were most in need. They decided to continue collecting gifts from friends and loved ones for her that year and then donate them to a local charity in her honor. When they found Helen’s Hope Chest, it was clear that this was the kind of cause that JaKelle would have wanted to be a part of.
Over the past five years, JaKelle’s Christmas Box has carried the Helen’s Hope Chest mission and brought holiday cheer to thousands of Arizona’s foster children and teens. Throughout the 6-day long event, foster parents come to pick out toys, books, stuffed animals and stocking stuffers to surprise their children with during the holidays. Since serving 1,400 children in 2012, we have more than doubled the size of this program and hope to serve over 3,000 in 2016. If you would like to help make sure that the foster youth of Arizona have the kind of holiday experience that every child deserves, bring donations of new and unwrapped toys or gift cards to the Mesa First Church of the Nazarene located at 955 E. University Dr. in Mesa, 85201 between 12/12-12/17 9am-3pm.
Community Outreach Coordinator
Helen’s Hope Chest