ELIZABETH – It may take a star to wish upon but sometimes delivery comes in an RV. That was how a local youth had her wish come true when she was one of 30 recipients of granted wishes in May courtesy of the nonprofit One Simple Wish.
Shawanna Hicks, a member of Community Access Unlimited, recently had her wish for driving lessons filled as one of 30 recipients of wishes granted through the “30 Wishes. 30 Cities. 30 Days.” program One Simple Wish held in May in coordination with National Foster Care Awareness Month.
The 30.30.30 campaign took the One Simple Wish team on a 4,000-mile trip granting wishes to foster children or those who have aged out of foster care in 30 cities in 19 states and the District of Columbia over 30 days, traveling in an RV for the entire month.
One Simple Wish grants wishes for foster children and foster families in an attempt to bring greater focus to the foster care system and connect givers to recipients. The nonprofit, founded in 2008 and headquartered in Trenton, partners with social service agencies in 29 states. Wishes can be filled for as little as $5.
“We have been speaking with young people in foster care, those who have aged out of foster care, counselors and mentors – everyone that contributes to foster care,” said Danielle Gletow, One Simple Wish executive director. “We try to focus on the positive side of what’s being done out there to support kids in foster care…There are things in the foster care system that need changing (but) there is great work being done. It takes a lot of people and we want to celebrate that. We feel the best way to do that is to expose people to the messages of the heart.”
One Simple Wish has been taping interviews at each stop and plans to release a film about the trip next spring prior to next year’s program. The stop at Community Access Unlimited in Elizabeth to fill Hicks’ wish was the 29th location.
Hicks wished for driving lessons through the Wish Program of Community Access Unlimited (CAU), which supports people with disabilities and at-risk youth through programs designed to enable them to live independently in the community. CAU in turn passed along her wish to One Simple Wish, which selected Hick’s for the 30.30.30. program.
Hicks wants to get her driver’s license so she can become a full-time employee at CAU. She currently works part-time as a clerk in the agency’s human resources department but wants to become an assistant support counselor working with her fellow members who are developmentally disabled. A license also will allow her to enroll at Kean University and work toward a degree in social work.
Hicks came to CAU in 2010 after living with a foster family for four years. She was aging out of the foster care system and wanted to enter a program that would allow her to remain active beyond 18 and even 21. She is a member of CAU’s Supportive Housing Program.
The driving lessons are just the latest wish come true for Hicks, she said.
“Community Access has given me so much,” she said. “When I came to CAU I wasn’t sure I wanted to be here. But my counselor never gave up on me. There’s no organization like this. They pushed me to get my license when I didn’t want to – I thought I’d be riding on the back of the bus my whole life. They gave me work. They raise you and take you from one level to another.”
About 10 percent of CAU’s employees are members or former members, according to Mercedes Witowsky, the agency’s associate executive director, a key element in the support CAU provides, she said. Hicks’ other support has included her counselor, Nijmima Coleman, and Howard Wingard, coordinator of supportive housing at CAU. They have provided the kind of reinforcement Gletow hoped to highlight through the 30.30.30. campaign.
“I had a lot of hardship when I was young,” Coleman said. “My grandmother raised me. I have a passion for helping young people, especially young people in foster care because they don’t get a lot of support.”
“I can really help these kids, watch them grow and really make a difference,” Wingard said. “Shawanna has shown a lot of leadership since she came into the program. She has become a leader of her peers and brings out the best in people. She deserves all the accolades she gets.”
Other wishes granted on the “30 Wishes. 30 Cities. 30 Days.” trip included a special animal encounter and private tour of the Philadelphia Zoo for a youth in Philadelphia; a Kindle to provide access to literature for a youth in Dover, Delaware; a digital camera to create a life book for a foster child in New Orleans; backpacks and school supplies for 50 foster children in Garden City, Kansas; therapeutic horseback riding lessons for a young person in Jefferson City, Missouri; and knitting supplies for children residing in a residential treatment home in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
“These are simple wishes but they tell a story,” Gletow said.
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