Cara Cole Heerde wants the world to know that she is a fighter.
When she was only three years old, she and her brother entered foster care after being neglected. They had been left with no food, drink or even toothbrushes, resulting in her needing 12 root canals. By the time she entered her seventh foster home at the age of six, she was still unable to talk. Thankfully, that seventh home would prove to be her last, as her then-foster mother adopted her and her brother when she was eight.
Now fifteen, Cara Cole is proving just what a fighter she is by not only thriving, but also dedicating her life to helping other foster children. The Jefferson, Ga.-native started the #3SProject, where she volunteers to help support foster families and uses social media to encourage others to do the same. Through her project, Cara Cole is working with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services to enter photographs of foster children into the Georgia SHINES System, an online database of information for all foster children within the state. In addition to the #3SProject, Cara Cole volunteers for Piedmont CASA by making and delivering meals to ten different foster families each month. She also speaks as an advocate at CASA events. Cara Cole additionally advocates with Promise 686, a volunteer organization that mobilizes churches and families to help orphans and foster children. Next month, she will begin volunteering as a leader for the nonprofit Girl Talk, where she will offer peer-to-peer mentoring and encouragement to middle school girls. Cara Cole dreams of one day starting her own foundation where she can donate money to foster children and continue down her path of volunteerism.
Describe your volunteer role with the #3SProject.
It stands for stand up, show love and shine bright. I want to step up for foster children. I want to be able to put foster children’s pictures in the Georgia SHINES system. Then, showing love, I do volunteer work and I bring meals to families. I’m going to be doing volunteer work at churches. For shine bright, I want to use social media to encourage other people to step up and show up and shine bright for foster children. I want to use it to promote businesses and companies who are doing good things for foster kids.
When did you start this project?
Three years ago. I was a foster kid and when I was younger I didn’t have any pictures of myself as a baby. I also want to make sure that foster children have families and people to love them, because I never had that when I was in foster care.
What inspired you to work toward putting foster children’s photos in the Georgia SHINES system?
I would see pictures in picture frames and I had never seen that before. Ever since, I was always interested in pictures and I wondered what I looked like as a baby because I never had any pictures of myself. So, for other foster children, I want to make sure that they have pictures of their life as they are growing up. They store all the foster children’s information in the Georgia SHINES system.
How do you volunteer with Georgia CASA?
My mom and I will make meals for families. We put them in a cooler and we take them to their house, and we leave the cooler on the front porch. They take the meals in for their foster families. … Someone did that for my mom when we were in foster care. It helps a lot because foster families have a lot of pressure when they take in foster children. They’re trying to cooperate with them and talk to them and they have to watch them all the time, so it lifts a lot of weight off their shoulders when someone else is helping out with making dinner and doing little things like that.
What do you do as a Promise 686 advocate?
I go to churches and I encourage people to become a part of a community of care. They bring meals to foster families, babysit, support the foster families, and they do things like that. … Someone did that for me. They came and they babysat and brought us meals. They supported our foster family, so I’m encouraging and influencing other people to do the same for other foster families.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
I’m going to be a Girl Talk leader. I’m going to talk to girls about middle school problems that they’re having and encourage them. I’m going to be a leader and role model for them and help them develop confidence. … [Girl Talk] develops confidence and leadership for girls in middle school. Once a month, they have meetings with middle school girls. I just became a new leader, so I’m going to start doing it next month.
I wanted to do it because when I was in middle school, I didn’t really have a lot of confidence in myself. Being in foster care, I didn’t really know how to talk when I was younger. When I was six years old and I came to my mom’s house and she took us in, I couldn’t talk. I could make sounds, but I couldn’t actually talk. I had a lot of trouble talking and learning how to talk because I was so behind. In middle school, that kind of stuck with me, so I want to help other girls in middle school to develop confidence.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Just being able to go and do something good for foster families and for foster children, because it’s hard taking in a foster child. I want to use my story to encourage other people to do the same.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
I think that it’s really important because someone did do that for us. Also, it’s the right thing to do and people need a purpose to give to others.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Mainly that everyone can help with foster families and foster children. Everyone can do something to help with them. I want people to know that I’m a fighter. I fought through a lot of difficult things in my life while I was in foster care and even now to this day.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Cara Cole? Find local volunteer opportunities.