Chase Jones wanted other children in foster care to experience something he never forgot. He wanted them to receive a gift that would mean as much to them as his guitar means to him.
Chase and his friend Matt Ryan, both third-grade students at Terra Centre Elementary, decided to join together for their ninth birthday parties and collect presents. Like most 9-year-olds, they love to play sports and games, and when their friends brought 24 different presents to their joint birthday party at Burke Lake Park, they were ecstatic. It wasn’t because the presents were theirs to keep, though: it was because they knew the gifts would make 24 children in foster care very happy.
“I got something from where these [gifts] are going to go when I was a foster kid,” said Chase. “So it makes me feel good that someone else will get what I got.”
Chase and Matt donated their presents to the Fairfax County Department of Family Services Foster Care and Adoption Program. A friend of theirs had done something similar a few weeks earlier by hosting a party and asking for people to bring in old blankets and towels for Humane Society pets. The boys’ birthdays were coming up, and with a little help from their parents, they came up with the idea.
“Instead of people that don’t know me or people that don’t know Chase buy a gift for us, we said to bring gifts for foster kids,” said Matt.
THE GIFT GOES into a pool of donated items at foster care program office. Sometimes a child in foster care has biological parents who are still in touch with the agency. If the parent or parents haven't the means to buy their child a gift, the agency lets them choose something from the donated items and present it to their child as a gift. Chase’s father found a guitar among the donated items and gave it to Chase. It is now an item he cherishes, especially since his father has since passed away.
“Now that he’s older he really appreciates that,” said Susan Richardson, Chase's legal guardian.
Richardson said most of the birthday party guests brought more than one gift because they knew what the boys were up to ahead of time. The printed invitation to the party told guests that the gifts would be donated to the children in foster care.
“A toy to a kid makes a big difference,” said Richardson.
Emma Marshall, community educator with the Department of Family Services, said she is amazed at how selfless the boys have been. The department is used to receiving contributions from adults, she said, so they are especially grateful for the boys’ generosity.
“It always touches us when children give back to children,” said Marshall. “It means they are understanding there are others in need in the community.”
Children sometimes give because they have to complete a school project or accumulate community service hours, but Chase and Matt weren’t trying to satisfy some ulterior motive. They just wanted to do something nice.
“It made me feel pretty happy,” said Chase.
About 450 children are in the county’s foster care program, said Belinda Buescher, spokeswoman for the Department of Family Services. The number fluctuates, but the department never has a shortage of children who could benefit from community support.
“Working in this area of social services has moments of great tragedy, but it also has these moments of incredible joy where people just surprise you with the depth of their compassion and their generosity,” said Buescher.
The gifts that are donated to the department are distributed as quickly as possible, and the department shares excess gifts with other programs within the department, such as child protective services. Since donations are constantly coming into the office, there is usually enough to go around.
“This Fairfax community is one of the most generous communities I have ever worked in,” said Marshall. “We’re always approached with ‘what do you need?'"