The piece of mind we get from helping a child develop self-confidence and self-esteem is truly beyond measure. At Blue Skies for Children the emphasis on serving children’s basic needs can restore hope where hope is needed most. The supplies that serve the most vulnerable of our community come in the form of a winter coat, a pair of shoes, a backpack or the ability to participate in a school activity otherwise forgone.
Executive Director Julie Guay remembered, “We had three little boys that came in just last year through the Shoe Give Program. Their shoes were literally … all the layers were coming through. Their shoe laces were frayed. They didn’t want to give up their old shoes to get new shoes because they were afraid they’d need their old shoes again.”
Hand me downs were exchanged for brand new kicks, the boy’s faces lit up and they were left with a bit more spring in their small steps. “It was pretty beautiful to see the smiles on their faces,” Guay recalled.
“We might not be able to help a family with their situation, but we can certainly help a child with an immediate need,” said Guay, a former corporate executive and Blue Skies for Children board member. Guay is assisted by two dedicated part time employees, making up the small but mighty staff of this well established non-profit.
Maya Green joined Blue Skies for Children out of high school and has been with the organization for seven years. Green and Robyn Johnston split administrative and program duties, in addition to dedicating their time in assisting with the programs that help homeless, low-income and foster children ages 6-18. The Blue Skies for Children staff is supported by a dedicated group of ten board members who believe in the power of building confidence and reinforcing self-esteem – qualities that result from meeting a child’s most fundamental and basic needs.
Established in 1997 and becoming a 501(c)(3) organization in 2002, Blue Skies has only recently been able to double their office space to accommodate various program and in-kind donations. A distribution room doubles as a conference room while down the hall there’s more space for stored items. Winter coats, hats, scarves, blankets, shoes, socks, gloves and backpacks all take space to store until specific programs open up for children to receive these essential items.
Blue Skies for Children facilitates the needs of a great number of children in comprehensive ways. Blue Skies’ Little Wish Programs have expanded greatly over the years and their Little Wish Enrichment is one of their largest programs. “At any given time, we have 90 kids enrolled in this program,” Guay accounted. Over the course of a calendar year, an average of 1,200 children are served through all six programs.
These children can participate in multiple programs. Most recently added is the Backpack Distribution Program that assists children each fall with a new school backpack. Last year, 400 children sported a new bag to carry their school supplies.
The Shoe Give and Winter Warm-Up Programs round out the distribution side of what the organization provides in the way of material help. Children can also use a One-Time Little Wish Program to request help purchasing a one-time item, “Anything from cleats to an ASB card for school,” Guay shared.
And then there’s one of the most solace inspiring gifts – the gift of music. A metallic green drum set sparkles on the top shelf of the storage room. Students have the opportunity to select an instrument and participate in school orchestra or band programs without the additional cost of purchasing or renting the instrument themselves. A collection of 128 instruments are on hand and as many as 30-50 instruments are loaned out at any given time. Students can use the program until they age out of Blue Skies for Children at age 18.
So how can the community help Blue Skies’ children grow into confident adults? “Not all people can help in the same way, but certainly financial donations are welcome,” Guay said. “People who have more time on their hands and less financial ability often volunteer their time or perhaps become part of our board.”
There are a number of different ways to engage and support children by getting involved. One of Whatcom Talk’s own, Kevin Coleman, has just joined Blue Skies’ compassionate group of ten long-standing board members. Just last weekend he and his family spent an evening stuffing 500 envelopes for Blue Skies for Children’s annual Casino Night fundraiser.
Contributors can also choose to sponsor a local child through Blue Skies’ Sponsor A Child Program. For $50 per month a sponsor receives information about the child they sponsor and will receive regular updates about a given child’s progress in their enrichment activity.
Coleman has been impressed by Guay’s diligent efforts as the Executive Director of Blue Skies for Children. “We support 500-700 homeless, low-income and foster children through each distribution program,” Coleman said.
Because Coleman was a foster parent himself, he’s seen first hand the children who move through the system. “When kids go from one home to another, they lose everything they’ve had. They don’t have anything to take with them or rely on and then there’s the added stress and possible post- traumatic stress disorder. Blue Skies for Children provides a jacket and it’s theirs. Or they provide the ability to take karate classes and that says, ‘You mean something. You’re worthwhile.’ It builds their hope and self-esteem. They need to know those feelings after not having consistency or a forever home.”