An idea born in a garage 20 years ago has blossomed to disrupt the oftentimes difficult circumstances of the 15,000 children apart of the Arizona Foster Care System.
Arizona Helping Hands began in Scottsdale resident Kathy Donaldson’s garage, growing over 14 years to an 8,000-square-foot facility in the Scottsdale Airpark. Soon the organization will move into its own 18,000-square-foot facility in Phoenix at 3110 E. Thunderbird Road.
What began as a local outreach effort has now emerged as an intricate part of providing safe environments and the comforts of home to children who may have never experienced the love and support of a family at all.
“Arizona Helping Hands mission is to provide basic needs to these kids to make their lives a bit safer and more comfortable,” said Arizona Helping Hands President and CEO Dan Shufelt.
Mr. Shufelt points out the generosity of the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation has fueled the relocation efforts expected this fall to the new Phoenix location.
“Our primary program is providing foster families with beds and cribs to give children a safe place to sleep. Many times children are moved from their familiar surroundings to a relative’s house or a foster home without advance warning,” he said.
Mr. Shufelt explains children placed in state custody typically find themselves living with willing relatives who have open homes and hearts, but little else to offer.
“Recipients are many times not prepared to take in kids, so children who are moved due to abuse and neglect, facing so many other issues don’t even have a place to call their own—a bed,” he said.
“We will provide more than 3,000 beds and cribs to children in 2018, along with clothing, diapers, personal care packages and birthday gifts. All of these items will help foster families who choose to open their hearts and homes to make these kids’ lives a bit more normal.”
Over the last several years Arizona Helping Hands was widely expanded its reach to children and families in need across the state.
“We shifted our mission in 2013, during the height of the foster care crisis in Arizona, to assisting children in foster care,” he said. “In 2013, we provided 44 beds and cribs to boys and girls. In 2018, we are on pace to provide more than 3,000 beds and cribs to provide a safe environment. As we have grown and our reputation has expanded, we have made connections outside of Maricopa County to assist children throughout Arizona.”
If you offer it, people will come, Mr. Shufelt explains.“Families travel from all over Arizona to receive the items we provide,” he pointed out.
“It is challenging for grandparents who are living on fixed income to take in and care for grandchildren who have been removed for cases of abuse or neglect. But what grandparent is going to say ‘no’ to the Department of Child Safety when that call for help comes? Almost half of children in foster care in Arizona are in kinship placements — with relatives, family friends.”
Turns out a generous family member doesn’t translate to government assistance, Mr. Shufelt says.
“These providers receive no government assistance for caring for children in foster care,” he said. “We help the transition and do everything we can to lend a hand.”
The Charro connection
To help this growing need, the Scottsdale Charros have been regular supporters of the Arizona Helping Hands mission. This past year, The Charro Foundation provided a $10,000 grant to help expansion efforts at Arizona Helping Hands, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
“The Charros believe in the service to the most vulnerable populations in our community,” said Scottsdale Charro Jason Heetland.
“Providing emergency services to help foster children is so rewarding and is a beautiful thing to do. The AHH leadership is one of the most passionate and caring teams I have run across. They live and breathe their mission and it is an amazing feeling to support organizations like AHH.”
For 56 years the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.
Mr. Shufelt says Charro dollars fuel efforts to help children in-need wherever they may be in the Arizona Foster Care System.
“As the largest provider of material needs for the foster care population, we continue to expand our services to fill voids,” he explained. “Most recently, leadership at the Department of Child Safety informed us of a recognized need expressed by children in group home settings.”
The ability to protect one’s cherished belongs is a quality of life many of us take for granted, Mr. Shufelt explains.
“Teens living in congregate care have stated worries about the security of their belongings,” he said.
“We stepped up with a new program and now provide Foster Footlockers to teens to give them a place they can lock up their most treasured possessions — maybe one of the few family photos they have been carrying around on their life journey.”
Mr. Heetland agrees Arizona Helping Hands is making a difference to one of the most vulnerable populations in Arizona: children.
“Arizona has one of if not the highest populations of foster children and teens. AHH’s expansion will help the organization reach and serve more individuals,” he said. “AHH gives foster children and foster guardians both the necessities like beds, diapers and food as well as the kindness all children deserve to get through some pretty tough circumstances.”
Without support from The Charro Foundation some Arizona Helping Hands efforts would have to be curtailed, Mr. Shufelt explains.
“The Charros have supported Arizona Helping Hands with grants for multiple years,” he said. “Funding from the Charros continues to allow us to serve the needs of children. Our birthday dreams program was expanded in 2017 with the help of the Charros grant to include birthday gifts for teenagers. For a teen’s birthday we will provide a rolling duffel bag, together with $50 worth of gift cards and an inspirational book, such as ‘Marvels of the World.’”
Mr. Shufelt contends at Helping Hands a positive message is reinforced through the idea of hope and a bright future ahead of every child.
“Our message is that your life is ahead of you, never cut yourself short because you can do anything,” he explained.
“In the first full year of this program expansion we will provide gift packages to 700 teenagers, a group that is too often written off and forgotten about. They won’t be in large part thanks to the support of the Charros.”
Go to www.azhelpinghands.org
Scottsdale IndependentNortheast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.