Carrying their belongings from home to home is an unfortunate fact of life for foster children, but thanks to the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores and Friends of Foster Kids, at least they’ll carry them in style.
As the Christmas holidays approached, club members set out to collect new and “gently used” suitcases and duffle bags so children will have a piece of luggage to call their own.
Optimist Club members and central office administrators from Lakeview Public Schools collected 20 duffle bags and 16 suitcases and turned them over to Friends of Foster Kids.
Theresa Toia will be honored as Columbus Day Humanitarian of the Year. The owner/operator of Franklin Interiors, Inc., specializing in Interior Design and Decoration for residential and commercial properties, she previously served as the 2008 President of the Columbus Day Celebration Committee. She has been, as she says, “enhancing living and work environments” for over 27 years.
Being very active in the community, she is also president of various sports organizations. Toia is a member of the Americans of Italian Origin Society, Ladies of Harley-Wolverine Chapter, the Father Solanus Guild and the Gorgeous Smorgeous Girls Ladies Charity Club. Having served as a Director on the Shelby Community Foundation for severalyears, Toia has also been the vice chair of this 501c (3) foundation and served as chair of the Development Committee, building relationships in the community.
In 2006, after hearing heart-breaking stories from her daughter, a case worker working in the social services system, Theresa Toia and friends, Karen Szczotka and Michele Little of Shelby Township started “Friends of Foster Kids.” Thousands of Metro Detroit foster children go without Christmas gifts each year. When most local kids are opening their X-boxes and iPods, many children in the foster care system receive nothing at all. Solely through donations and volunteers, the non-profit group has worked to provide a Christmas for Macomb County foster children, and let them know that they are not forgotten, for the past five holiday seasons.
Toia is happily married to her husband Joseph Toia, an attorney, who was recently named to the Macomb County Circuit Court. They have two daughters, Jessica (Toia) Rossow and Marissa Toia. Theresa Toia enjoys a wonderful relationship with all three of her grandchildren Joseph, Michael and Abigayle. In 2008, Michael was Young Columbus. Toia is very proud of her Italian heritage and the opportunity to promote and celebrate its traditions.
SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Friends of Foster Kids, a Shelby-based nonprofit group, works year-round to provide items to foster children in southeast Michigan.
Since December, four local Cadette Girl Scouts endeavored to create a race and family fun day at River Bends Park May 3 to benefit the Friends of Foster Kids. The Scouts started the initiative to earn the Silver Award, the second-highest award in Girl Scouts.
Meghan Lytle, Emma Kohler-Lewis, Allison Creek and Kayla Colussi put in more than 200 hours to plan and organize the event.
The 5k run/walk will take place at 8 a.m., and the family-fun event will take place from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and include carnival games, police finger printing, police and fire demonstrations, a princess meet-and-greet, music, face painting, and more.
The girls also will be collecting donations of pajamas, socks, underwear, winter clothing, toiletries, twin sheets, blankets, pillows and grants for Friends of Foster Kids.
For the past three years, Girl Scouts leader Sue Lytle said she and her troop have wrapped Christmas presents and sponsored foster children through the organization.
“I love the fact that it’s children helping children. There’s a certain symmetry to it that’s beautiful,” said Friends of Foster Kids Director Theresa Toia. “This was a huge undertaking for these ladies, and I’m impressed with everything they’ve done thus far.”
Toia said her organization assists upwards of 900 children annually who live in temporary homes or foster care after being removed from situations of abuse and neglect.
“I can’t even believe what these children have had to endure,” Toia said. “After you meet one child that has received a gift or help in some form, you realize the huge impact it has on these children to know they’re not alone and not forgotten, and there are people that do care out there.”
Toia said the organization was born when her daughter, a foster care caseworker, said that her whole caseload of children did not receive Christmas presents for the second year in a row during the recession.
Through word of mouth, hundreds of volunteers donated time and items to create specifically tailored Christmas wish lists to more children each year. Now, the organization supplies children with items year-round.
With children “aging out” of the foster care system, a large portion of the work the organization does also is directed at supplementing children’s apartments and dorm rooms.
“I feel like we’re slowly changing how people live,” Kohler-Lewis said. “To know that we’re helping people (is my favorite part). We’re not just doing it for ourselves.”