More than 400,000 children live in the foster system each year.
Children enter the system for many reasons, which include neglect and abuse in their original homes. Nearly half (46%) of foster kids spend one to three years in the system.
In 2006, Danielle Gletow started the foster parent journey with her husband Joe. After experiencing the lack of awareness and resources for fosters first-hand, Gletow founded One Simple Wish in 2008. The non-profit’s mission is also simple: to improve the lives of foster children in America.
According to One Simple Wish, more than 20,000 kids age out of the foster care system and nearly 25% of them will end up homeless, in prison or addicted to drugs. One Simple Wish’s Wish to Work program offers support to foster kids aged 15-23 by ensuring they have the proper resources to live independently. Resources include resume assistance, job-training and networking events.
According to their website, One Simple Wish makes it possible for kids all over the country who are experiencing difficulties in foster care to make simple and unique wishes through our partnerships with over 700 agencies in 48 states.
We sat down with Gletow to find out more about her motivation in working with children from the foster system.
What compelled you to start One Simple Wish?
My husband and I became foster/adoptive parents in 2006 with the hopes of adopting a child. We chose adoption first because it felt right to us. But we quickly realized that foster care was a really confusing system; especially for the kids. When we started taking kids into our home and doing more work in our community we realized there was such a huge need for more support for these children. And we knew so many good people who wanted to help but just didn’t know how. Becoming a foster parent or an adoptive parent or a mentor were all options that were already out there but many people can’t or don’t want to do those things…but they still want to help. I created One Simple Wish as a way to allow them to do that, to help specific kids with their actual needs. One Simple Wish not only provides a way for kids in foster care to experience childhood joys like their peers but it also educates the public about what foster care is really like for our kids and empowers them to do something to make it better.
What’s the best part of each new day?
Knowing that somewhere around the country a child is finding out their wish has come true and is going to get to experience the love that goes with that! Wishes are not just stuff to our kids…they represent the idea that there is goodness and hope in the world and give our kids a chance to just be kids…something that has often eluded them as they navigate this confusing and often difficult system.
One night I got a call from a case worker that she had two kids who were being removed from their mother’s care for the second time in 6 months. They needed clothing and some personal care products so I met them at our Trenton office to gather up items for them. The kids weren’t clean and came in pretty tense. But after my kids started playing with them and they got to walk through our toy closet and pick out some new toys to take with them and pack up new clothes into new suitcases their faces lighten up…you could see that just being taken care of and loved a little made a huge difference. That is a tough transition and seeing how we can make it a little easier was really powerful.
As for wishes, it is always the simplest wishes that inspire me the most. Most of us took for granted that we always had a birthday party or presents under the tree or even a few dollars to go to the movies with our friends.We had those things because our parents gave them to us.When I see wishes from kids who just want those simplest of things, I am moved every time. And when we get their thank you notes so filled with gratitude I am reminded that to our kids, these wishes are not simple.They mean so much more than we can even imagine.
Where do you see the charity in 5 years?
I see One Simple Wish covering all 50 states and working closely with big brands and businesses who can help us ensure that every child in foster care has access to the same resources and experiences as their peers. I believe there are a lot of great community-minded organizations out there that would be excellent partners for One Simple Wish. We have been working with Hasbro for years and it has been an incredible relationship that has benefited our kids greatly. I want to have businesses in finance, real estate, electronics, technology and apparel working with us like that too!
One Simple Wish’s kind acts have ranged from providing tickets to a young Buckeye fan allowing him to attend his first Ohio State football game to gifting a 17-year-old musician with his very own stand-up double bass. Here’s how it works: the foster children’s wishes are posted on One Simple Wish’s website by approved social service agencies. After submission, the non-profit’s team approves the wishes and allow donors to submit funds to make these wishes come true.
“The wishes that don’t seem like the basic necessity are (often) the ones that are the most important,” Gletow told CNN. “Because those are the wishes that are really just a kid being a kid, and asking for something that they want to have fun.”
In an open letter to Huffington Post, Gletow expressed her passion for these children by stating, “My heart truly aches for each of you who are not receiving the love and care and opportunity you deserve. And I don’t want to fail you. I want to reach every single one of you – those of you who are still in foster care and those of you who left the system days, weeks, months and even years ago. I want to do whatever I can to try to find a connection for you, a person, a group, someone to call on to be the voice in your head that says “don’t stop trying” when your own voice fails you.”
She continued, “I want you to know that this organization that I built, I built it for YOU. I want you to use this. I want you to share your simple wishes so we can make sure you don’t have to miss out on the things your friends are doing that you so desperately want to do.”
In 2013, Glewtow receive CNN’s Hero recognition for her outstanding work with One Simple Wish.
“When a child’s wish is granted, we are reassuring them that their voice is being heard,” she said in the video presented before her acceptance speech.” Gletow’s work doesn’t stop with children, she also assists young adults who are getting ready or already have aged out of the foster care system.
“It’s up to every individual person to say all of our children deserve better. Not just the ones that are born into good circumstances. … That’s what I’m going to do with my life. I want my life to be a life of purpose.”