When your work is about motivating and maximizing a child’s potential, you just may be on to something greater outside of the typical family unit. As a mother of three herself, Dr. Laura Jana considered the essential needs of foster children – going beyond food and shelter by providing toys, books, and school supplies; all the things taken for granted when a child has to leave the home suddenly and unexpectedly. Dr. Jana is particularly focused on collective impact, technology-driven innovations in health and education, social impact finance, and fostering cross-collaborations to improve the well-being of children, families, and communities.
When did you realize that foster care children were part of your life’s work outside of your family of three children?
Dr. Jana: As a pediatrician, I have seen my life’s work as motivating and maximizing children’s potential, and focusing on what all children need. Even in my early years of medical and pediatric training, I recognized that the foster care system is a system of children who have the same basic needs that all of our children have, whether it’s my children or anyone else’s. They all have the same basic needs: food, shelter, clothing and caring adults. Then you have some toys and books and school supplies to add to the mix. But what really caught my attention is what we want for our children and what they need. Kids in the foster care system need those things magnified, because we know that they’re often faced with leaving their home unexpectedly. They also switch homes multiple times within the year and sometimes have to leave without their belongings. This gives even more importance to meeting those basic needs and most importantly the sense of belonging in the community; having that sort of caring responsiveness that we as parents really can feel instinctively from having our own children.
What other aspects of foster care are most families/people unaware of?
Dr. Jana: There are certainly other challenges for all of us, whether you are a parent or not – but trying to help the foster care system is really daunting. There’s over 400,000 kids on any given day in the United States in the system. Even though there are a lot of people working really hard to address all their needs, I think it’s much easier for us to be able to do something about it. Focus on what we know they are in need of – their basic needs.
I’m partnering with Mattress Firm and their foster kids program because what I think they’ve done is really made it great for all of us, in our own communities, to focus on what we all can do – and that’s addressing basic needs through donation drives. Mattress Firm companies are available six times throughout the year, across the country, as volunteer donation sites. They are there so that all of us can be providing school supplies, toys, and utilizing the dollar drive to help with the financial needs of the foster care system. Let’s not forget that there are also clothing, shoes and pajama needs as well. Six categories of very definable things which really can help impact kids’ lives and their needs in the foster care system.
The other thing that I’m really focused on are the biologic needs of children.
We all know that everyone can’t be a foster care parent, however, we all can help support kids in the system in one way or another. For our own kids though, participating in something like the Mattress Firm Foster Kids Program this month, they’ll have the opportunity to participate in the clothing drive. People can bring their children, have them collect clothes that they brought from home and donate them at the store. This gives them a chance to practice and develop an important skill in philanthropy. You’re instilling the practice of giving and caring about others with compassion so that we all develop a bigger sense of community.
Parents are the most influential in their children’s lives. What can parents show and teach their kids to encourage them to be more involved?
Dr. Jana: This is one of the questions I get asked all the time. I believe that all parents recognize the importance that it’s not just about reading, writing, bedtime, and brushing teeth. It’s more about how we teach our kids to be caring and compassionate individuals that are part of a bigger community. So coming up with something like this isn’t easy. However, what Mattress Firm has done is created a program where it makes it very easy to participate, adults and children alike. There are Mattress Firm’s everywhere, so you can just go to a retail location and donate clothing.
Take a look at the MattressFirmfosterkids.org website. Six times throughout the year, families can participate in the donation efforts. This organization is benefitting children and parents by participating and modeling these sorts of behaviors. You can start at a very early age. Whether your child is 1 or 12, kids can all start learning by watching their parents and actively participating.
For the month of May, there’s also a Kid’s Hero contest at Mattress Firm. They will have the opportunity of supporting, caring and participating in giving activities. Parents can either bring their children and have them donate some clothing at the store during the month of May. Or parents can take a picture of their kids doing something outside on their own. Try encouraging a donation drive or a bake sale. It can be whatever their creative minds come up with to raise money to support local foster care kids in their community. Then, starting on May 23rd, the top five photos entered into the Kid’s Heroes Contest with the highest number of votes will move onto the Finalist round (May 23-29, 2016), and the winner will be announced the week of May 30th. The top hero prize is rewarded with a nice gift of a $500 gift card to Toys R Us. Be sure to swing by and vote for your favorite!
It’s about doing good, making other people feel better is what matters more than anything else. Even though I sound like my mother when I say this, we know that ultimately we want our kids to grow up to be happy, healthy and contributing members of society. Nothing is better than starting our children early in their life and having our kids actively involved in those sorts of acts. It's the simple act of coming in and donating clothing or other items throughout the area. We take school supplies or pajamas or dollars – it’s that simple act which is benefiting foster kids. It’s a win-win situation as it not only benefits our children but also the community of the foster kids that live among us.
Mattress Firm Foster Kids, through the Ticket to Dream Foundation, was launched to make a positive impact on the lives of the thousands of foster youth nationwide. Throughout the year, Mattress Firm stores across the country will host six drives to collect funds and essential items. These items include pajamas, clothes, shoes, and school supplies to help make the transition for foster kids smoother. This helps assist with excessive costs for the foster families. Donations can also be made online, and all gifts will be used by Mattress Firm Foster Kids’ carefully selected foster care partners to provide foster children with special programs and services.
For more about Mattress Firm Foster Kids and the Kids Heroes photo contest, please visit www.MattressFirm.com/KidHeroes.
It’s never too late to Get Your Kids In the Giving Spirit!