It’s easy for children in foster care to slip through the cracks. It’s unfortunate, but the amount of times they get moved around, often to different cities or schools, in addition to a new house and family, can cause numerous difficulties. Everything from not having enough clothes or personal items, struggling in school and emotional distress including anxiety and depression. Thankfully, Clark County has Bridge The Gap (BTG), a non-profit that builds bridges to keep foster kids from those cracks.
“Bridge the Gap is an enrichment program for children in foster care, giving them opportunities to participate in a variety of activities and programs to enhance their stability, growth and success,” explains Peggy Hays, co-founder of Bridge The Gap. They serve any foster child that is under 21-years-old, with a legal status of “dependent.” “This can include children in and out of home placement in foster care or relative placement,” she adds. “Children in our tri-county area placed in private agency foster homes, are also eligible.”
These activities and programs can be almost anything. BTG helps with sports, music, arts, extracurricular activities, academics and of course, everyday items like clothes and books. If it’s something that could help a child grow, be successful and have more stability, Bridge The Gap will work to make it happen.
One of the bigger things they help with is summer camps. “BTG acknowledges the importance of summer camp for kids, and generously supports many children participating in camps throughout the year,” shares Peggy.
Tutoring has also become a main focus in the last few years, she adds, as children in foster care are desperately falling through the educational cracks. “Statistics show children lose 4-6 months of academic progress with each move, and average 3 or more placement changes,” she explains. “Only 50 percent of children in foster care graduate from high school. Bridge The Gap values education and encourages use of tutoring to assist foster children in reaching their educational goals.”
Having been around since 1999, Bridge The Gap has helped thousands of foster children in Clark County. Peggy said one unusual request, however, came from a 17-year-old hard-of-hearing teen, who requested a cell phone. She attended a deaf school in Vancouver and needed a way to communicate with her foster parents in Stevenson. “If she needed to get ahold of the foster parent for questions, medical issues, or to just tell her the bus would be late, this was the only form of communication,” explains Peggy. “Also because of the phone and a donated adapter, this young girl was able to watch TV with her family!”
Another request was for a young child with extremely flat feet, who could hardly walk. “Because of this she had no physical activity, didn’t want to do anything, and was becoming severely depressed and anxious,” explains Peggy. “BTG purchased a swimming pass (she did not know how to swim at the time). She loved this activity, went to the pool 15 times a month, and fell in love with water aerobics. This made a huge difference in the child’s life, physically and mentally! She is in college now and continues swimming on a regular basis.”
Filling the Gap
Bridge The Gap helps with these things by providing funds for tutoring, or paying for summer camp fees. They also organize drives for school supplies, coats and holiday toys. They then partner with the social workers from Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) to get the items delivered to the local foster children.
In addition, Bridge the Gap work with DCYF throughout the hear to hold events for foster children. Events like a yearly graduation celebration, annual holiday party, foster parent appreciation picnic, and National Adoption Day, help foster kids feel like they are part of a community, even if they move around a lot.
Bridge The Gap also supplies the emergency clothing closet located in the DCYF, for children as they are removed from their home and placed in foster care. “Many children entering the foster care system come with only the clothes on their back,” shares Peggy. “The closet enables children to receive clothing for several days.”
And, each year BTG partners with the Vancouver and Greater Clark County Rotary to provide a shopping spree during the holidays. This year 30 children received $125 to shop for clothing at JCPenney’s.
Bridge The Gap cannot fill all the cracks without support. They get help from community members, businesses, their annual Champagne Brunch fundraiser and other organizations that have a passion for children in foster care. TwinStar Credit Union is one such partner. Every year, they do a candy fundraiser. The funds from this are used to buy gift cards for teens in foster care. “This population is always a challenge to buy for (as many of you with adolescents know!) so it is wonderful to have funds to do this,” shares Peggy. “It is amazing how grateful the youth are to receive a “special gift” just for them. Without Twin Star’s support, the teens would not have a Christmas at all.
“Bridge the Gap is thankful to Twin Star Credit Union for their continued support and generous donations. Without community partnerships, we would not be able to serve children in foster care, attempting to “give each child a childhood”. You truly are making the difference in the life of a child.”
Know a Foster Kid in Need?
Social Workers from the department of Department of Children Youth and Families can submit a written request to Bridge The Gap for a child’s needs. If approved, BTG will then send a check directly to the source of the activity, i.e. a summer camp, the tutoring agency, etc. “As BTG now serves Skamania and Cowlitz Counties as well as Clark, programs are available to all foster children who are dependent wards of the court in each county,” shares Peggy. “Not all events are held in each area, however BTG will financially support requests from Social Workers in each DCYF office.”
For more information, including how you can help, visit the Bridge The Gap website.