Being in foster care can be difficult for children. When the money gets tight, sometimes children in the foster-care system have to do without things that others take for granted. Like going on a field trip or getting a uniform for the soccer team. That’s where the Fund for Alexandria’s Child comes in — filling the gaps to pay for things beyond food, shelter and clothing.
"These are ordinary things that every child should have," said Suzanne Kratzok, coordinator of Community Resources. "One child is having piano lessons because of the fund."
Alexandria has about 200 children in foster care, and the fund must raise money to meet their needs. That’s where the Fostering the Future Cruise comes in. Now in its third year, the annual fundraiser is an opportunity to have fun aboard the Cherry Blossom while helping kids in foster care. This year’s theme is the "Cajun Swamp Stomp," and participants will receive Mardi Gras beads and dance to Zydego music while boating toward Mount Vernon on the Potomac River.
"This year, we’re calling the cruise the ‘Cajun Swamp Stomp,’" Kratzok said. "A portion of proceeds will go to foster children in New Orleans."
FOSTER CHILDREN have a wealth of problems to deal with — especially in Virginia, which spends less than other states on its foster-care system. Last year, Councilman Ludwig Gaines led the City Council’s effort to ask the Virginia General Assembly to increase funding for foster-care families. Gaines’ parents took on a foster child when he was young, and the experience has given him a personal connection to the issue.
"One of the shocking things we learned while we were doing the research is that the commonwealth spent more money per day housing dogs in kennels than kids in foster care," said Gaines. "That was one of those ‘oh my gosh statistics’ that makes you realize something had to be done."
In the end, the General Assembly was able to increase funding for foster care parents — but no amount of government funding could possibly cover the many needs of children in the system. That’s why the Fund for Alexandria’s Child is hoping to raise at least $40,000 with the Cajun-themed cruise.
Participants will receive special commemorative bandanas — a fashion staple of the Big Easy. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception aboard the Cherry Blossom while it’s still docked at the City Marina.
"Some people don’t like to go out on the water," Kratzok said. "So they can come for the first hour before the ship sets sail."
From 7:30 to 9 p.m., passengers on the refurbished paddleboat will enjoy Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners, a nationally known band sponsored by Dominion Dental Services. Other cruise highlights include free dance lessons, a New Orleans buffet by Mango Mike’s Caribbean Restaurant and wine provided courtesy of William Harrison Imports. Pat Doyle, chairwoman of the advisory council for the Fund for Alexandria’s Child, says that buying tickets to the cruise is a great way to help kids in need.
"Your contribution, from $500 to $5,000, will help the advisory council provide our foster children with the everyday things that every youngster should have," Doyle said. "The council is excited to showcase the culture of the Gulf Coast and help this special group of kids in our community and in New Orleans."
Tickets for the cruise cost $65 per person and are tax deductible.