2 boys pack kindness into Suitcases for Kids
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
On any given day, neglected and abused children are whisked from their homes and taken into foster care, often stuffing all of their belongings into a black garbage bag .
For such children, it's a time of bewilderment and fear.
The shame and embarrassment of this kind of situation struck close to home one day for 10-year-old Tyler Cordoni, and he decided to do something about it.
Months later Drake Boyer, 11, also learned that foster children, who might move several times a year, often have no way to secure their few belongings.
Separately the two boys began collecting new or like-new suitcases, large backpacks and duffel bags for the children. Now they work together in their Suitcases for Kids campaign. Through a network of friends, relatives, organizations, schools and churches, they have collected about 300 pieces of luggage.
Tyler, a St. John Vianney student, accompanied his mother, Allyson Cordoni, to work at the Kapi'olani CARE Program one day last November. A nurse practitioner, she exams children coming into the foster care system. Some children were in the waiting room when Tyler noticed the garbage bags and asked his mother about them.
"I started thinking about it all the time because it's really sad to see them like that," Tyler said.
Cordoni said she'd never given the trash bags a second thought until her son noticed them and decided to do something. Later she learned that some of the foster children would sleep with their bags or place them under their pillows because they didn't feel the bags were secured, she said.
"Adults are concentrating on getting these children into homes and making sure they're safe," Cordoni said. "We weren't looking at it from a child's perspective."
It took a child to recognize the problem, she said. "That's how kids are sometimes. They sometimes see the obvious."
Drake, who is homeschooled, discovered the foster children's need while his mother searched for a project he could do.
"They would have to leave and put all their precious belongings into a garbage bag, which could break," said Drake, of Makakilo. "I wouldn't want to have to leave my house and pack up on short notice and not have a suitcase."
Cissy Boyer said she came across a national Suitcases for Kids campaign in an Internet search. A 10-year-old North Carolina girl started it in 1996 and now it is an international nonprofit organization.
"I'm just trying to teach my kids to reach out to others," Boyer said. "Even though they're still young, I want to get that into their thinking."
Volunteers will be collecting suitcases during a rally at the Hawai'i Capitol today as part of National Foster Care Month. The combined effort of Tyler and Drake was launched last month at the Foster Parent Appreciation and Information Fair at Bishop Museum.
They have had responses from the Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club, Rotary Club, Junior League, Soroptimists and C.S. Wo. The Kamehameha Schools Performing Arts Dance Class donated $1,000 raised at a recital.
The suitcases are a great idea and helps soften the emotional trauma children are exposed to, said Amy Tsark, administrator of the Child Welfare Services Division. Because of the emergency nature of moving such youngsters, social workers are forced to use whatever is available to gather children's belongings, including packages and garbage bags. The suitcase campaign is a very thoughtful one that is appreciated by the department and foster children, Tsark said.
"We welcome whatever the community can offer," she said, adding that contributions are always welcome and the department is always looking for people to become foster parents.
The boys' present goal is to collect 2,500 suitcases, one for each child in foster care. They realize the campaign will be ongoing because new children are taken into custody every year, Boyer said.
She said private individuals have also helped, including a couple who went to Ross Stores and purchased three new suitcases; a woman who brought in 15 pieces; and a 92-year-old woman who lives in the Arcadia Retirement Residence.
The elderly woman had heard Boyer make a plea for suitcases over the radio and tracked her down so she could donate a very old and unique piece of luggage that resembled a hat box, Boyer said.
She said that suitcase would go to a special child, who will be told the story of the elderly woman's donation.
"I was so touched because she went through the trouble," Boyer said. "I was so blessed by it. I could barely understand her but she totally knew what she was talking about. She had gone into her closet, cleaned out her suitcase and had it sitting there ready for me to pick up."
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.