Hold Onto That Hug!

With our older daughter heading off to college in the fall, things will be changing in the Lee family. Gulp! My husband and I have learned how important it is to grab onto life’s opportunities as they happen, so we decided the time was right for a special family vacation. Our destination? The happiest place on earth, Walt Disney World. It wasn’t our family’s first visit, nor was it the first time there when I learned a life lesson.

One day in the Magic Kingdom, I waited in line with my younger daughter who, despite being a teenager, was still willing to meet every princess. It was really more for my benefit than it hers as it was one more way to hold onto her childhood. Thankfully, she was a willing participant in our pursuit of Cinderella, Ariel and every other taffeta-wearing character we could find! As she met one princess after the other, I noticed something interesting: every princess gave her a hug—and no princess was first to break the embrace. My daughter always initiated letting go. It was the same with all the kids getting princess hugs.

I mentioned this observation to my daughter. As a walking encyclopedia of all things Disney, she enlightened me with a heartwarming fact: Disney princesses never are first to let go of a hug. It’s in the princess rulebook, literally in their job description. What is the reasoning behind it? As my daughter explained, it’s because they never know just how much that child may need a hug.

Of course, the very idea tugged at my heartstrings. It made me realize, yet again, that my two teenaged daughters are no longer little girls. They’ve become young women. It also made me think about CHD’s work with foster children.

There are many reasons for a child’s placement in foster care. Most often a child is removed from their home because of abuse or neglect, or because their home environment is destructive. The opioid epidemic, which is tragic at many levels, has added substantially to the demand for foster care. When one or both parents is addicted to opioids, it renders them incapable of caring for their child. There are thousands of such cases in Massachusetts. Thousands.

CHD cares for and protects nearly 250 children (from zero to 18) in multiple ways. As one example, our Homefinders service recruits, screens and trains prospective foster parents to care for children who are in state custody. Adults who become foster parents make a commitment to a young person who needs the love, care and stability they can provide.

“All of our kids have experienced trauma and loss. They are in need of support and kindness, many don’t know how to express their needs appropriately” according to Yamilca Nogue, Homefinder for CHD Children and Families. “Every child’s needs are different, some may want a hug, and others may feel nurtured by being provided some space and privacy.”

Like all children, foster children grow up. Eventually they “age out” of the foster care system. I prefer to think of them “graduating” from foster care into adulthood, like Ann did. She came into CHD’s foster care program at age 12. Her mother had serious mental health issues and there were signs of neglect and abuse. Ann says with CHD it was always great to know she had someone in her corner.  Ann “graduated” from foster care, transitioned into CHD’s Independent Living Program, and has made a life for herself. Today she works in a physician’s office as a medical secretary, lives on a farm and is engaged to be married. Those success stories are plentiful because of the good work of colleagues like Yamilca.

Yamilca, is a Homefinder, but she is also an Event Coordinator for CHD’s MaryAnne’s Kids Fund, a special fund established to provide children in foster care with life opportunities such as music, dance, art, sports, summer camp and extra-curricular education. Such opportunities, which should be part of growing up for any child, are not typically paid for through the state foster care system.

“Being able to do the things other children enjoy—like being successful, being part of a team, or discovering that they are good at things—really changes how foster kids see themselves,” Yamilca explains. “MaryAnne’s Kids helps foster kids feel like kids.”

The 16th Annual Stepping Out Dinner Dance, the biggest fundraising event of the year for CHD MaryAnne’s Kids Fund, takes place on Saturday April 7, 2018, at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow, starting at 5:30 p.m. It also happens to have a theme this year: Disney!

Mark your calendars and save the date. It’s never too early to get tickets. They’re $50 each and can be purchased in advance at chd.org/steppingout. If you can’t attend the event but want to donate or buy raffle tickets, you can do so on the same webpage.

Could you be a foster parent? If you can give a child time, attention and a stable home, you can make a positively life-changing difference. To find out more, contact Yamilca Nogue at 413-726-3523 or ynogue@chd.org.

For me, while there were many take-aways from our trip to Disney, I am reminded of the most important one each time I hug my children: I’m never the first to let go. You never know just how much they made need it.

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