When Danielle Gletow adopted her daughter Mia, she began to learn about the American foster care system and the challenges faced by more than 100,000 children and young adults who are part of it.
Determined to do something to help them, Ms. Gletow made it her mission not only to educate others about the challenges these children and teens face, but also to give people an easy way to lend a helping hand.
That's how One Simple Wish was born.
Founded in 2008 out of Gletow's home office, One Simple Wish is a nonprofit organization that connects foster children and vulnerable families with potential donors who grant their wishes online or at the organization's Ewing, N.J.-based "Wish Shop."
The wishes, which typically cost from $5 to $100 to grant, encompass everything from a desire for a musical instrument to a movie ticket, new clothes, or horseback riding lessons.
The goal, Gletow says, is to fulfill the dreams, big or small, of deserving children and families while bringing attention to the struggles they face.
To date, Gletow has seen more than 2,800 wishes granted by her organization. And while each is special, Gletow enjoys remembering some of the first wishes that she herself helped to grant.
For example, when a child in a low-income family wanted to take scuba-diving lessons with his older brother, she made calls to local schools until she found one willing to cover the cost of the class.
And when Sarah, a girl who had grown up in foster care, was graduating from basic training in the US Army, Gletow was able to help arrange for her caseworker to fly to South Carolina to share the proud moment that Sarah had worked so hard to reach.
Sarah was the only student who didn't have family coming to the graduation, Gletow says. "She had no way to pay for [her caseworker] to come."
Many of the requests aren't for physical items at all, she says, but rather the opportunity to have life experiences that many other children have like music or gymnastics lessons.
"A lot of them do want these experiences that a lot of their friends are having," she says. "We are giving someone an opportunity that they may otherwise go through life not having."
Current wishes include mentoring for a 16-year-old foster child; an entertainment coupon book for a youth shelter in northern New Jersey, which will help organizers afford activities ($30); and photography supplies for a foster child who loves art ($45).
A foster child starting college is also wishing for a laptop computer ($325); another child needs gift cards toward clothing and food ($100); and another wish by a needy child is for a ticket to see "Annie" or a similar musical production ($55).
Fulfilling these wishes, says Martina Davidson, gives a needy child or teen something he or she might never otherwise have or experience.
Ms. Davidson is operations director for PEI Kids, a Lawrence, N.J.-based nonprofit group that provides prevention, education, and intervention programs for children, families, and caregivers related to personal safety, sexual abuse, and the overall well-being of children.
Gletow's work has touched the lives of some of the children at PEI Kids, and Davidson says the impact of such gifts can be tremendous.
One Simple Wish "will come in and provide that extra-special something for that child, whose needs and wants would not necessarily be met," she says. "They provide that extra-special wish for the child that does not always happen."
Life in the foster care system is full of ups and downs, Gletow says. Growing up in just one household throughout childhood is often only a dream. "There are children out there who don't have normal childhoods," she says. "Our child welfare system is broken, and it is leaving many children in devastating circumstances."
Those circumstances can be compounded when young adults "age out" of the system, she says. …