It is February, the month when we celebrate Love, and so it is appropriate for us to share a story of a community partnership that has enabled Volunteer Fairfax to be a conduit for love. This partnership is with Foster Care to Success (FC2S), founded in 1981 by Mr. Joseph Rivers, himself a veteran of the New York orphanage system. Mr. Rivers knew firsthand, not only the experience of growing up in an orphanage, but also the reality of turning 18 and being expected to enter the adult world without family support.  He started an outreach program, with other foster care alumni, to help youth successfully transition out of foster care and prepare for adulthood.

Every January, for the past 10 years, Volunteer Fairfax, through our Volunteers for Change program, has worked with FC2S to host the annual Valentine’s Challenge. The challenge and mission of this event is to create–in one day- over 2,000 hand-crafted Valentine’s that will be distributed to former foster care kids who are in college or attending technical school. Dozens of VFC volunteers, their friends, and family members gather at George Mason U to get creative!  Each card is unique in its design and carries a message of caring and encouragement. The cards are included in Valentine’s Care Packages, with other donated items including hand-knitted scarfs, and delivered through FC2S.

“Around Valentine’s Day my friends were all getting care packages from their parents. I was kind of bummed out thinking I wouldn’t be getting anything, but then your package arrived in the mail. There were tons of useful items, a beautiful red scarf that was perfect for the winter, and a handwritten note telling me how much I was loved. I almost cried when I read the note. And of course, I showed off the package to all of my friends! ”
– Vanessa M

Every year the Valentine’s Challenge is a lovefest! Some volunteers come to the Challenge at George Mason University year after year.  Others, as young as two years old, are creating Valentine’s for the first time.  Volunteer Fairfax provides materials and a light lunch and the volunteers supply their creativity, inspirational messages, and sometimes bring their own special materials. The hall at GMU is awash with pink and red and everyone is smiling! Some attendees come as individuals, meeting new friends while crafting. Some come as a club or group as part of their civic engagement. And some come with family and friends, enjoying the quality time with loved ones while demonstrating to young children the importance of giving back to the community.

When youth age out of the foster care system at age 18, they face many challenges.  Those who desire to continue their education will find help through FC2S, whose wider mission includes providing scholarships to community colleges, 4-year colleges and technical schools.  For these former foster care kids, up to 2,500 students, FC2S mails a care package 3 times a year (Oct., Feb., and May).  FC2S receives many emails of appreciation for the care packages, including messages to thank the person(s) who made the card or knitted the scarf.  One young woman who graduated from college through a FC2S scholarship went to work for an organization that participated in putting the care packages together.  When she saw the red scarf, she knew she was personally connected!

Volunteer Fairfax is grateful to the VFC members and everyone who comes out each year to the Valentine’s Challenge. The event is always fun, but also meaningful. And, we are grateful for the opportunity to support Mr. River’s dream of helping foster care youth.  Since his passing in 1990, his foster sister, Eileen McCaffrey, as executive director, has grown FC2S into the largest provider of college funding and support services for foster youth in the nation. Learn more.  Now that’s sharing the love!

The Valentine’s Challenge is just one example of the way Volunteer Fairfax partners with nonprofits and for profits to leverage resources to meet community needs in our region.  If your organization has a dream, like Mr. Rivers, to solve a community problem with LOVE, contact Volunteer Fairfax at 703-246-3460.