Meet Danny Mendoza, an advocate for foster care and youth involvement. As a 19-year-old college student, Mendoza founded Together We Rise, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the way youth navigate the foster care system.
As World Kindness Week (Nov. 10 – 14) approaches, I think about how one small act of kindness can have a tremendous impact on countless people. I’d like to share my small act with you, in hopes it will inspire your own.
When I found out my 9-year-old cousin was living in a car after his parents lost their home, I knew I had to act. I tried to get him into foster care, thinking it would offer him a safe home. After researching the realities of the system, I was shocked to learn it was potentially a worse situation for him.
The statistics that face foster children, both inside and outside of the system, are staggering. Only two to three percent of foster children will ever graduate from college, and approximately 80 percent of the prison population is composed of former foster youth. This predicament is largely attributable to a lack of strong, steady resources and support.
Seeing my cousin’s plight, I sold my car and used those funds to start Together We Rise in 2008. Our principal focus is on improving the lives of foster children in the most compassionate and influential ways possible.
We want them to have a normal childhood and bring them experiences that kids typically have, like visiting Disneyland or having a bike to ride. These may seem like small acts, but to them it provides a sense of normalcy and belonging. For instance, most people don’t realize how common it is for children to enter foster care with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
On average, a foster child will move two to three times a year with their few belongings stuffed in black trash bags. We started our Sweet Cases program to provide children with duffel bags filled with basic necessities, including hygiene kits, stuffed animals, blankets, coloring books and crayons.
This nationwide initiative is made possible through the hard work of volunteers and partnerships with companies that recognize the role of the private sector in driving positive social change.
One such company we’ve encountered is KIND Snacks, whose mission is – naturally – to spread kindness. Earlier this year, we discovered their KIND Causes program, which provides $10,000 monthly grants to individuals and organization working to make the world a little kinder.
With the help of our community, Together We Rise entered KIND Causes and subsequently secured the funding, which we were able to put to good use immediately. That grant allowed us to distribute 200 Sweet Cases throughout Los Angeles and New York – two states with the highest number of children in foster care.
To date, our Sweet Case program has provided more than 7,000 children with cases so they do not have travel from home to home with trash bags. Trash bags are for trash, not children.
You, too, can help us change the way children navigate the foster care system in America. To learn how to get involved, visit our website. And remember, sometimes the smallest actions make the biggest difference.