Helen’s Hope Chest: Fulfilling the dreams of foster children

Our second tour with Mesa Leadership 2016 was to Helen’s Hope Chest, a special place that is part of Mesa United Way.

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Helen’s Hope Chest recently moved into a beautiful, new building at 126 E. University Drive.

What is Helen’s Hope Chest?

“Helen’s Hope Chest fulfills the dreams of thousands of foster children from throughout the East Valley and beyond by providing them with quality clothing, school supplies, books, gift cards, toys, games and more at no cost to their foster parents” (from the website).

Janice Walker explains how Helen's Hope Chest blesses the lives of local foster children.
Janice Walker explains how Helen’s Hope Chest blesses the lives of local foster and kinship care children.

Basically, kids enter the foster care system and the foster families do their best to try to take care of the basic necessities. Helen’s Hope Chest provides a free shopping center for foster children so they can “shop” and pick out what they need.

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The receptionist desk and the quote that greets you upon entering the building.

Foster children and their families are able to come into the facility and receive clothes, shoes, books, school supplies and toys.

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Janice Walker gave members of the Mesa Leadership class a tour Aug. 31.

Around 600 children are helped each month with five new outfits.

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The boys section is always much more sparse, says Walker. Donations of new or gently used boys clothes are greatly needed! Especially needed is new boys socks and underwear.

Who is Helen? “Helen’s Hope Chest memorializes the life of Helen Paula Simmons, a former foster child who managed to raise a family of her own despite difficult circumstances. Helen and her brother, Walter, were foster children in the 1930s.  They lived with the same foster parents for years but were never adopted. Simmons passed away in June 2009.  Helen’s Hope Chest honors her memory with a place where children in foster care will have their own “store” where they can pick out whatever they need at no cost. Helen’s family was looking for a way to memorialize Helen Simmons and believes their mom would be proud of Helen’s Hope Chest” (from the website).

Helen Paula Simmons (photo from Helen's Hope Chest website).
Helen Paula Simmons (photo from Helen’s Hope Chest website).

There is also a room called John’s Room that is stocked with toys so the children can pick something out for their birthday.

Walker explains how John's Room was named for the son of Chief of Staff to Governor Doug Ducey Kirk Adams. John passed away when he was an infant and the family started the toy room in his honor.
Walker explains how John’s Room was named for the son of Kirk Adams, chief of staff to Governor Doug Ducey. John passed away when he was an infant and the family started the toy room in his honor.
Toys and games fill the room.
Toys and games fill John’s Room.

Another big part of Helen’s Hope Chest is JaKelle’s Christmas Box, which was started in 2011 by the family of JaKelle Westergard, who passed away at age 17. Donated toys during the holidays make these foster children’s Christmas bright! Nearly 3,000 children were blessed last year by donations to JaKelle’s Christmas Box!

JaKelle Westergard (photo from website).
JaKelle Westergard (photo from website).

See more about JaKelle and the Christmas gift program at: http://www.mesaunitedway.org/jakelles-christmas-box

Volunteers help sort, clean and organize the donated clothes and other items.
Volunteers help sort, clean and organize the donated clothes and other items.

Did you know? Helen’s Hope Chest and JaKelle’s Christmas Box run from donations and volunteers who make it all possible.

The center relies on donations from community members to bless the lives of local families.
The center relies on donations from community members to bless the lives of local families.

Background: “In late 2009, following a significant cut in state funding for foster families, Mesa United Way seized the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of foster and kinship children and youth and their families. A small office was set up like a boutique, offering young people an opportunity to shop for clothing and to receive other necessary items like shoes, hygiene items, backpacks, school supplies and books as well as birthday gifts. In 2010, the first full year of operation for Helen’s Hope Chest, 1,402 children and youth were served” (from Arizona Republic article, May 7, 2015).

Children can also pick books from donated books in the Book Nook.
Children can also pick books from donated books in the Book Nook.
Children are also able to pick their very own beautiful handmade quilt.
Children get to pick their very own beautiful handmade quilt.
And they can choose a lovingly made bag for their clothing.
And they can choose a lovingly made bag for their clothing.
There is even a fun play area for children to enjoy while a parent shops.
There is even a fun play area for children to enjoy while a parent shops.

For more information on Helen’s Hope Chest or donation needs, go to: http://www.mesaunitedway.org/helens-hope-chest-1

Members of the Mesa Leadership class who attended the tour Aug. 31.
Members of the Mesa Leadership class who attended the tour Aug. 31.
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