OPINION

Shufelt: Even COVID-19 won’t slow down Arizona Helping Hands

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The coronavirus has shut down or slowed down many businesses throughout the U.S., but the essential services provided to children in foster care by Arizona Helping Hands have continued on through the storm.

On May 15 we delivered our 1,020th bed this year to a foster family. Our primary purpose is to provide children in foster care with a safe place to sleep. Especially during these days of COVID-19, we can’t take our foot off the pedal. We must continue to assist children who have been abused and neglected.

Our small but intensely dedicated team has continued our work as the state’s largest provider of essential needs to the foster care community, but it hasn’t been easy. We have modified our processes to increase the safety of our team while serving as many families as we can.

Bed pickups have been replaced by bed deliveries; interactive client servicing has been replaced by no-contact pickup outside our front door; birthday package assembly previously done by volunteers is now an added job taken on by our staff. Through It all, we continue our work, impacting the lives of hundreds of youth throughout Arizona.

During the days of shelter-in-place, the routines and the sense of normalcy of families have been torn asunder.

Consider all of the additional challenges that children in foster care have thrown their way. They’ve had video conferences with biological parents and caseworkers, in lieu of in-person visitation. Birthday parties are a subdued activity at home, not held with friends at the local pizza parlor. Life has been very different during these days.

That’s why it has been so important for Arizona Helping Hands to continue our work. It’s unthinkable for boys and girls to sleep on air mattresses or foam pads, for birthdays to pass without recognition, and for youngsters not to have educational activities they can do at home during these stressful days.

Our Birthday Dreams program has provided 1,075 children with a personalized gift package already this year. Through it all, we have let these boys and girls know that our community cares about them and wants to celebrate their special day.

Thanks to the generosity of our friends at the Learning Journey International, children on the Navajo nation and across the Valley have been given games and puzzles to engage their minds. These products encourage learning and develop confidence as they enhance a child’s potential.

With Learning Journey items, kids don’t even realize that they are learning through play, and parents can take pride knowing the benefits achieved by building a puzzle or exploring a toy set.

Backpacks, home-safety items, even masks have been provided by our programs throughout the pandemic. We know the challenges that boys and girls in foster care face, and we want to be a part of the solution, helping them grow and prosper in a safe and loving environment.

As we all move toward a return to a sense of normalcy, I encourage you to consider the children. Arizona Helping Hands spends 93 cents of every donated dollar on our programs, and receives no governmental funnding.

With corporations focusing on survival, corporate projects such as backpack assemblies and diaper or school supply collection drives are not happening. It is projected that the number of children in foster care will grow over the coming months as school resumes, and pressures on family units continue to mount.

Through it all, Arizona Helping Hands pledges to keep up the work, to bring hope, safety and joy to our state’s 14,000-plus children in foster care. We know how critically important our services are and we will not pause in our service to the boys and girls who need us.

Editor's note: Dan Shufelt is president and CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, which provides basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the organization and donate at azhelpinghands.org.

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