Sunday, March 28, 2010

One Simple Wish

Motherhood, as the saying goes, changes everything. This might be true in the life of a woman, but in the workings of the world, I’d like to amend the phrase: Mothers change everything.

Especially situations of injustice, neglect, or heartache.

For Danielle Gletow, motherhood moved her on the personal level and the public, and some of the most vulnerable kids in New Jersey are being helped because of it. Danielle is the force behind One Simple Wish, a private nonprofit that grants modest requests from children whose own parents are no longer supporting them. Most of these kids are in foster care, or living in group homes, or connected to the fifty community partner organizations Danielle works with.

The name, One Simple Wish, says it all, but don’t be confused by the word “wish”. Some of the requests are painfully basic. New shoes. Eyeglasses. A bike. Tickets to the circus, or movies, or prom. You don’t have to be Philadelphia Eagles cornerback, Ellis Hobbs, to grant them, but it’s nice that last year, he did. Granting a wish might help a child get through the day with more success, or more warmth, or more confidence. Or more faith that someone out there cares about them.

The One Simple Wish website lists wishes, submitted by places like Anchor House, a home in Trenton for runaways and abused children, Rainbow House, the first group home in the nation for adolescents with HIV/AIDS and their children (now a place for teens with other chronic diseases, as well), and New Jersey Foster and Adoptive Family Services.

When you grant a wish, your money goes where you’d expect it: to making the wish happen. Danielle takes no salary, her staff is all volunteer, with the exception of a part-time program coordinator, and her overhead is low. She’s applying for grant money to someday fund a modest salary for herself, but the fact that her organization has fulfilled more than five hundred wishes, reaching more than one thousand children in less than two years, on a budget some charities could easily spend on one glossy mailing, is something she’s extremely proud of.

I first met Danielle and her two young girls—one adopted from the foster care system itself—at an event she organized on Meet Up called, Mommies in Action. I went to her office a few weeks later to see her latest One Simple Wish project, a dress drive to give disadvantaged teens dresses for prom. When the community center in Trenton backed out at the last minute, Danielle packed up the back room of her office, moved her belongings to a friend’s office, and converted the back room into a makeshift dress shop for 300 donated dresses.

I was in the dress shop when three teens came in from Anchor House. For the few minutes they looked at gowns, all of them dry cleaned and neatly hung on clothes racks, they were doing what most teenager girls like to do---shop, and forget for a moment about the world outside.

Q & A with Danielle Gletow, Founder and Executive Director of One Simple Wish

Can you tell me about when you knew you wanted to create One Simple Wish?

I had the idea for One Simple Wish about 8 or 10 years ago. I was doing some charitable work and finding it hard to find an organization to donate to where I felt like I was actually giving something to another person. I didn't have a lot of money to give and I didn't want to think my money was paying for paper or electricity or some CEO's salary. I wanted to be able to know that my donation was actually making a difference to someone else.......I always had the name and the dandelion (logo) in my head but it wasn't until I become a foster parent in 2006 that I decided I really wanted to focus on that group of children primarily. The general public doesn't seem to know much about foster children - or the types of lives they lead - and I thought this would be a good way to help them directly but also to raise awareness - bring a bit more humanity to the issue, not just statistics....

When you got it off the ground in the summer of 2008, what supplies, funds, etc. did you have in the beginning?

It was just me and my computer! I invested about $6,000 in building the website. My best friend of 17 years and Board President, Kim (Eaves-Gelb) did all the design work at no cost. My husband helped me with budgets and my family stepped in to donate a bit too.

What was the response from the community of social service providers (Anchor house, etc) when you introduced yourself and your mission?

Excellent from the very beginning! A lot of agencies felt like this was something that they were missing - a way to let the public know more about them and their direct needs and the people they were serving while at the same time not having to manage the inquiries or deliveries, etc. But it took a while to get to the right people at agencies where I didn't have any connections yet. We launched with about 6 partners, now we have over 50.

What are some of the more memorable wishes, or wish granting that took place this year?

There are so, so many. My favorite to date was a wish we granted for a 4 year old girl named Paedra living in foster care. Her foster parents had her when she was a baby and then she was reunited with her mom. Then her mom started using again and they got her back. She wanted to take dance lessons but they couldn't afford them. We were able to grant the wish and her foster dad called me to thank me and he cried. Of course, I did too. He told us how happy he was to see her so happy - and to have her back "home".

What about your personal upbringing or experiences may have made you the kind of person to leave the corporate world of marketing and devote your life to this cause?

My parents would tell you it’s because I hated having a boss and I can't sit still - which is as true today as it was when I was 3 years old! But honestly, I don't know. When I had my girls, something changed in me. It’s that simple. Success just became redefined. I always wanted to be a strong, focused career woman and thought the size of my paycheck would reflect that. When I had my girls, it hit me that I didn't care that much about what I was doing. I wanted to do something I could put my talent AND my heart into 100%. And something I could truly share with them - something with value. Really, in the end, it’s all for my girls and every other child out there. I feel like I'm a mom to the whole world and nothing makes me feel better than that! I think being a mom has made me a better person than I could have ever imagined.

If you could ask the blog readers to do something, what would it be?

If I could ask them to do one thing, it would be to spend five minutes and browse through the wishes - especially those posted from NJ Foster and Adoptive Family Services. I think that if they read some of these stories, they would see why we are doing what we're doing. These are real children, with sometimes heartbreaking stories...and they deserve to be able to enjoy being a kid - even if it’s for a little bit. We let them do that.

Lunch Box Mom Note: You can also vote on the Pepsi Refresh grant page, to help One Simple Wish win a $50,000 grant and spread the word about OSW.

Your organization helps address the simple wishes of kids in difficult circumstances. What do you think has contributed to the larger issue—the causes that make our country one in which there are kids in such circumstances to begin with? Could those ever be reduced or cured?

In my opinion there will always be a need for the foster care system for as long as the government continues to put more money into reactive programs rather than into preventative programs. We need more parenting classes, we need more community building, support system building, not more jails, not more DYFS case workers. We need to get to the root of the problem which is that this is a cycle. A child raised in foster care most likely came from a parent raised in foster care. They have no parenting skills because they didn't ever have a real parent. So when they become a parent, they don't know what to do. A lot of them don't have fathers or mothers and they don't know what that role is supposed to be. But we expect them then to become good ones when it’s their turn and that just doesn't happen.

I feel similarly about poverty. We have to give people the tools to break the cycle of poverty. Not more welfare, which is reactive, but more access to solid education, to mentors, to good jobs, to stronger community centers. That’s where we should be spending our money.

Can you tell me just a bit about the dress drive? You touched on this when I saw you, but who was the board member who spoke at Rider University, and how did the word of mouth about the drive really take off? And, do you know how many girls have taken advantage of the dress shop thus far?

Natalie Tolle was the Board member who spoke at Rider. The idea came from one of the girls in the crowd. When she brought it up to the Board, everyone loved it and it just sort of took on a life of its own! To add a twist we decided to sell dresses too - for $10 - so we could also pay for prom tickets. (Hard to go to prom if you get a free dress but can't afford a $50 or $75 ticket!) So far we have outfitted about a dozen girls. The goal is at least 100, if not more.

For those in the Princeton Area, you may have noticed that the Princeton Scoop is now promoting One Simple Wish events, including a partnership with Rouge, which is offering 20% off one non sale item for the donation of a gently used dress. Nancy Weinstein, COO of the Scoop, said, “When we learned what they were doing we were immediately captivated and signed on to help in any way we could.”

When you meet Danielle, or read more about One Simple Wish, you might say the same thing.

Visit the One Simple Wish Website
Vote for them on the Pepsi Refresh Site

Check out the video my assistant producer Heidi and I took at the dress shop last week. It's the TOP video on the sidebar--not the bottom two--which we are working on removing from Youtube with little success. Remember, my assistant producer is four, and she's the more technically savvy.

And, if you haven't already become a fan on facebook, now's the time, as lunchboxmom attempts to add "discussions" to the facebook page in the weeks to come.


Anonymous said...

very nice, Sarah ... what a great program

Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about a countrpoint to the Bugaboo post! Thanks for this post Sarah.

Diana said...

This inspired me so much today Sarah. Thank you for posting. As someone who has a very special love for her own mother, it made me think about all of the important things we are capable in the world for our own families and for others.

Houston! said...

This is great stuff. I loved reading about this woman and all the wishes!