Imagine sitting at your desk at work, and someone comes in to tell you to quickly pack up a few things because you must go with them. You’re going into a strange car, placed in a new location, with different people, perhaps different odors, and sounds. Your senses are overwhelmed, and you miss what you were accustomed to. Perhaps you’ve been moved many miles from the friends and colleagues that you know…You’re starting over with no sense of comfort or security. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
What would a child think and feel going through the same thing?
You might not know that children are often placed into foster care (in similar circumstances and feelings) with no personal items. This means they have no clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies, or any of the basic needs any child should have. In most cases, the fostering family is responsible for providing all the necessary items without funding in those initial weeks.
This is where The Kindness Project steps in.
TKP provides free support to foster families across eastern PA by offering essential items for the children in foster care. Youth from newborn to young adult ages are outfitted with stylish new, or like-new, clothing, shoes, personal hygiene supplies, beds, car seats, and various other necessities to help meet their most immediate needs.
The people at TKP passionately pursue a vision for a community-based support system that not only provides tangible goods but also aims to provide additional resources for youth in foster care, including free tutoring, enrichment programs for music, sports, and art, support groups, and social family events.
This is only successful through generous support from private donors and business community partnerships. TKP is a fully donation-based, volunteer-driven non-profit organization.
I talked with Jenae Holtzhafer, the founder and Executive Director of The Kindness Project. She exudes compassion and excitement for how TKP is changing the lives of children, teens, and the families they serve.
JW: “What was the reason for you to start The Kindness Project and create this resource community here in the Lehigh Valley?”
Jenae: Several years ago, my family began our fostering journey and realized, through many months of training and research, that no support existed throughout eastern PA for families who step up to help vulnerable children. The misperception that people foster kids for the cash was quickly debunked when we learned that the daily stipend averages $18-25/day. Who can add a child (or sibling group) to their home on that kind of financial support in this economy?
We came to the decision that becoming foster parents may not be the path we were meant to take. Instead, we have created a non-profit that can support over 1,200 PA children and the families that answer the call to foster them. Through these past five years, we feel confident that we made the right decision as more and more families reach out for help in these challenging times and as a record-breaking number of children and teens enter the foster care system.
JW: “Can you tell me more about The Kindness Exchange and The Kindness Cottage?”
Jenae: When we first started The Kindness Project, we felt it was important to name our physical shop, the place where we provide tangible, essential goods to the foster care community. The name “The Kindness Exchange” seemed appropriate since so many items are coming in through the generosity of community donors while equally as many items are being distributed to families who need support throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley. Through the exchange of these goods, we also have the great honor of witnessing an abundant exchange of kindness. It’s something very special!
In August 2022, we expanded our free services into the Pocono Region thanks to a group of wonderful foster and adoptive parents who asked if they could help. The need is great throughout Northeast PA, and with their volunteer commitment, we were able to open a second physical shop, The Kindness Cottage, where we have already served over 100 children. This shop was created in a cozy house on Main St. in Stroudsburg, so the name, The Kindness Cottage, seemed fitting.
JW: “Although physical, essential donations are always appreciated and needed, how important are business partners to the growth and success of TKP?”
Jenae: Finding partners who can commit to monthly donations in any amount (for example, the cost of one meal out) is vital to the long-term success of what we can do for these children and families. It creates a constant flow of income that we can rely on for our ongoing needs.
Connecting with businesses to provide sponsorship for our annual fundraising events helps sustain our mission as well. Sponsorships have been the lifeblood of our financial support and allow us to brag to the community about how wonderful these TKP Community Partners are in giving to our cause.
From time to time, we have open board positions and appreciate the interest from business partners who bring with them a vast network of local colleagues that may be able to support us in a variety of ways.
Without funding to cover operational expenses at our facilities, we wouldn’t be able to serve at the capacity that we have been. To date, we have registered over 500 foster families providing homes to over 1,200 youth. In 2022 we saw double the number of new foster care placements.
We receive an abundance of material donations, but those don’t cover the mortgage, oil to heat, and other general expenses.
Developing a team of paid staff will also empower us to do more for these families and children. Relying on volunteers does not provide a stable, long-term business model. Consistent financial support is the only way we can make that happen.
As we build relationships with the foster care community, we are learning about gaps that need to be filled in areas like music, art, sports, life skills, professional development, and general emotional support as they take this journey called foster care, particularly for teens who are aging out of the child welfare system.
Connecting with business partners allows us to identify critical resources and partnerships such as free-swimming lessons, piano and guitar lessons, and other enrichment programs.
Our priority is to bring dignity and equity to children and teens experiencing foster care. By keeping them in step with their peers and providing the same opportunities, we are helping change the narrative of what their future may look like. If not us, then who?
JW: “Where and how can people learn more, and how can they get involved and support The Kindness Project?”
Jenae: Our website is a great place to start! For those who are on social media and LinkedIn, we are very active with sharing needs, special projects, volunteer opportunities, ‘behind-the-scenes’ updates, and program development on Facebook and Instagram.
Our website is KindnessProjectLV.org. Our social media accounts are found at @KindnessProjectLV.
Many of these kids have the potential to be future business and community leaders if they’re just given a chance. After participating in a few TKP events myself, I was amazed to see how a little support goes a long way to radically change the lives of foster children by providing them opportunities to thrive and be loved by family.
You can be part of their growing success. Everyone deserves hope.