(05/02/19) VIDALIA, La. — (5/2/19) A colorful gift bag filled with personal care items, toys and games is a small gesture of kindness that can make a world of difference to a child entering foster care for the first time.
Members of the Northeast Regional 4-H Leadership Board have spearheaded a project for the past five years they call Clovers Care, putting about 200 age-appropriate gift bags into the hands of foster adoptive children from the Monroe region.
“Each item is a joy to the children,” said Wanda Washington, child welfare supervisor with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.
The Clovers Care bags include items that are helpful for children just entering care and give them something of their own, Washington said.
“Their faces just light up to get the bag,” she said.
Close to 500 children are in foster care in the Monroe Department of Children and Family Services region at any given time, and the bags have been a blessing, Washington said.
“It has been amazing to watch the youth be very intentional in buying for others,” said LSU AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator Ashley Powell.
“Most people don’t really consider doing something like this,” said Morehouse Parish senior Christianna Releford, adding that board members collect money and useful items for the bags all year.
More than 25 4-H board members and adult volunteers met April 27 in Vidalia to conclude the board activities for the year with a full day of community service.
The teens collected $480 in cash donations and other items valued at $350 to fill 30 Clovers Care bags this year.
The group began the day volunteering for Aiden’s Light Mind Over Matter 5K obstacle course to support families with children diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma and raise funds for other brain cancer research.
Following the event, board members gathered to purchase supplies and assemble the Clovers Care bags for children from birth to 18 years of age.
Each teen selected a boy or girl in a specific age range and traveled to a local store to shop for some practical and fun items to make each child feel special.
“I have little cousins, and they like dinosaurs and super heroes, clothes and playing with boy games,” said Releford, who shopped for a boy in the 4-to-6-year-old age group.
Kevin Thompson Jr., a ninth-grader from East Carroll Parish, relied on his personal experience to shop for a boy 6 to 8 years old, purchasing hygiene products, socks and athletic wear. “Boys that age have a lot of energy and focus on sports,” Thompson said.
Freshman Jaylan Bell, of East Carroll Parish, had the same idea shopping for a 10-to-12-year-old boy.
“I know when I was that age, I was outside playing basketball, throwing football and throwing things like Frisbees,” he said.
The service-learning project has been a successful teaching tool for youth to learn about budgeting and making age-appropriate purchases while building on their leadership experiences, said AgCenter extension 4-H agent Brandon Reeder.
“It doesn’t matter what other service projects we do each year, we always make sure we do the Clovers Care project as well,” said Richland Parish senior Samantha Summers.
The group has actively contributed to the state service-learning project that targets childhood cancer awareness by participating in local fundraising events and visiting and donating items to St. Jude’s
Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Houston, Powell said.
Every two years the state service-learning focus changes based on how 4-H members from across the state vote at 4-H University in Baton Rouge.
“The state focus two years ago was children and foster care, but our regional board members voted for this project even before that,” Powell said.
Summers said the best part of serving on the board has been meeting new people and volunteering for service projects and year-round events such as agriculture awareness programs like Ag Alley and Ag Adventures, the regional commodity cookery contest and 4-H Challenge Camp.
“I love the leadership board. It has given me more leadership opportunities and a more confidence in myself,” said Tensas Parish 4-H member Anna VandeVen.
The Northeast 4-H Regional Leadership Board is sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and consists of 41 4-H members from 12 parishes, including Caldwell, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland, Tensas, Union and West Carroll.