Trenton, NJ- First Lady Mary Pat Christie today recognized the Bergen County Youth Advisory Board, a group of young people who have been part of New Jersey's child welfare system, for their advocacy to improve the lives of other adolescents, and for inspiring Walmart to donate 7,000 wheeled duffle bags to be given to children to use when they are removed from the home, placed in foster care or are moved between placements. The Advisory Board also has the reassurance that Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) caseworkers will use luggage - not garbage bags - to move children's personal items.
"Sometimes the simplest things we take for granted, like a piece of luggage, mean the world to someone else," said Mrs. Christie. "I want to thank Walmart for their wonderful donation, which I am sure will generate more self-esteem and pride within these children, despite difficult circumstances. I also want to commend the tremendous young people from the Youth Advisory Board who were empowered to use their voices to make a difference in the lives of their peers. This is truly what New Jersey Pride is all about - people helping people."
As a result of a petition presented by members of the Bergen County Youth Advisory Board, DYFS communicated with staff that it is expected when a DYFS caseworker moves a child, the child's personal items will be moved in an appropriate piece of luggage, and that the use of garbage bags is never appropriate. In addition, DYFS reminded staff that flex funds are available to purchase luggage.
"We listened to these extraordinary adolescents who have spent time in our child welfare system, and recognized that what they have to say is very important. Their advocacy will better the lives of thousands of New Jersey's young people," said Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Allison Blake. "We are so thankful to Walmart for doing its part to improve the lives of vulnerable children. Walmart's generous donation of luggage will provide further dignity to kids in our care."
Commissioner Blake also thanked Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lori Grifa for making the initial connection with Walmart, as well as Foster and Adoptive Family Services for its partnership on the project.
"Walmart is proud to support this program and to provide 7,000 pieces of luggage that will be used for a great purpose," said Amy Corso, Director of Operations for Walmart Stores in New Jersey. "As a store of the community, we have a strong belief in helping those who are committed to helping others."
"This is an incredible accomplishment," said Bob Jones, Ph.D., president and CEO of Children's Aid and Family Services, the organization that facilitates the Bergen County Youth Advisory Board. "I am tremendously proud of these young women who have spent time in foster care and worked hard to initiate this important change. Their efforts are having a positive effect on the approximately 7,000 young people in foster care in New Jersey, who no longer have to endure the demeaning experience of carrying their belongings in a garbage bag."
The Bergen County Youth Advisory Board is one of 12 boards throughout the state. Through the boards, teens and young adults have an opportunity to provide input and feedback on programming and policy to DYFS management and staff. The forum strives to empower foster and homeless youth to successfully transition from being dependent on the child welfare system to being self-sufficient and responsible adults. Youth develop and enhance their advocacy and leadership skills through public speaking, community service, training, and interaction with positive role models.
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