Tuesday, December 18, 2007

12-year-old girl starts Kits 4 Kids to help foster children

Girl makes kits for foster children
Thomas, Jeff. Mercury News, Dec. 18, 2007.

Although empathy seems to come easily to most 12-year-old girls, for Tahnia Fairbrother of Burlingame, it's not a feeling that simply passes when something else interesting comes along. When she became aware of kids in need - kids going into the foster care system - she didn't just feel bad for them, or ask her parents to donate money.

She started her own charity to help them.

Tahnia launched Kits 4 Kids, a project to give support kits to children being placed into foster homes in San Mateo County. She worried about the kids, that such an experience would be frightening and confusing, and figured that a small pack full of necessities, plus a few niceties, would make the transition easier.

"I think having those things will give the kids confidence that they are going to be OK," said Tahnia one recent afternoon. Her goal is to distribute 240 of the kits by Christmas. A Los Altos-based non-profit called Help One Child is helping her coordinate the effort, and local church volunteers will help put the kits together.

Helping people has always come naturally to Tahnia, although she's never done anything on this scale before.

"For a long time I've loved to help people," she said. "Making people happy is one of my big goals." She often helps with charity drives and fund-raising at her school, and said she enjoys giving things more than getting them.

But it was a unit on West Africa in the third grade - and then a family vacation to Africa
Advertisement the following summer - that convinced her she could be doing more.

"There were so many children there that were orphans, a lot of them," she said. "I thought maybe I could start something for African children. But then when we got back home, as I talked to people, I found out that there are a lot of orphans and kids going to foster homes right here. So doing something here seemed like it would be more helpful to our community."

With the help of her mother, Jenny Heath, Tahnia talked to representatives of social service agencies at the county, who put her in touch with the Los Altos-based Help One Child. That organization's director, Susan Kammerer, was immediately impressed with the idea, and with Tahnia.

"She is an unusual spirit, a true philanthropist," said Kammerer. "She has a unique perspective about what other kids need, and a great enthusiasm for helping people in the community. And she's truly being aggressive about getting this done."

Tahnia doesn't know any foster kids, nor has she been touched by the foster care system herself. But she sees how some less-fortunate students are sometimes teased at school, and her instinct is to help them.

"A lot of children don't think about anything but themselves," she said. "People need to understand that not everyone has it so great."

And Tahnia had the statistics to punctuate her point. She pulled out a sheet of notebook paper with a list of bullet items she had written down about kids in foster care in San Mateo County. Among them: There are about 800 foster children in the county; 50 percent are not taken back to their parents; 25 percent move from home to home until they are 18.

But, of course, the poised and articulate sixth-grader is not a full-time social activist. She loves bike riding, playing soccer, hanging out with her friends and listening to music - Nickelback and Daughtry are current favorites.

Always in the background, however, is her urge to help.

"Eventually, I'd like to have a kit for every foster child in the county," she said.

Tahnia envisions that each kit will include toiletries such as shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste and body wash. There also would be some clothing, such as a T-shirt, sweater, underwear and socks. Other age-appropriate items, like stuffed animals, games and books, would complete each kit.

Wish Book readers can help. A donation of $75 will purchase items for an infant or toddler kit, $85 for preschoolers and elementary-age students, and $100 for junior high and high school youth.

Questions about Wish Book stories? Call coordinator Holly Hayes at (408) 920-5374.


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