Children's Rights

year 2, week 50:  this week i'm gonna... protect children.

“What I wanted the most was a family, but instead I was shuffled from facility to facility like I was an animal,” says Elijah Sullivan about his time growing up in foster care. He entered the foster care system when he was 7 years old.

Elijah Sullivan (photo credit: OmarStylez Photography)

Elijah Sullivan (photo credit: OmarStylez Photography)

Elijah is now a 26-year-old political science student, and recognizes that if he had been given the chance to live with a stable relative, his path to success and self-sufficiency would have been much easier. “I had an uncle that was willing to take me into his home a couple of years after I entered the system, but it ended up never happening.”

Multiple studies have examined the importance of family preservation. In a series of studies tracking thousands of children, Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor Joseph Doyle, Jr. found that children placed in foster care experienced drastically higher juvenile delinquency rates, adult arrest rates, teen motherhood rates, and unemployment rates than children who experienced similar abuse or neglect and remained with their families.

When children are removed from abusive and neglectful families, the goal is to keep them from further harm. Foster care can be a safe haven for some, but can be heartbreaking for others. Too many children live in dangerous situations, languish in institutions, are shuffled between multiple homes, or are torn from their siblings. Children’s Rights steps in to advocate for these children and make sure that the systems put in place to protect them are doing what they were intended to do.

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Children’s Rights is changing the way child welfare is practiced in the United States. The organization began as a project of the New York Civil Liberties Union and later the American Civil Liberties Union, and in 1995 became an independent nonprofit organization. Children’s Rights uses the law to hold governments accountable and defend thousands of kids when foster care systems fail, and they have secured court orders mandating top-to-bottom child welfare reform in more than a dozen states.

Children's Rights teams up with local child advocates to thoroughly investigate state, local, and regional foster care systems that are causing physical and psychological harm to the children they are mandated to protect. They build cases that expose pervasive failures, help develop solutions, and then negotiate court-enforceable plans that ultimately improve the way child welfare agencies treat kids. Once reform strategies are in place, they monitor states’ progress until children in their care are safe and supported.

As a result of their work, tens of thousands of children in more than 15 states are safer, get the education and health care they need, and have better foster homes. Best of all, children find permanent, loving families more quickly, ensuring they have the brightest possible futures. 

To learn more about Children's Rights please watch the video below:

For many like Elijah, foster care can be a whirlwind that keeps them spinning from placement to placement, without any safety nets to help them succeed. After aging out at 18, Elijah struggled to find housing and a sense of stability for almost a year. “I thought things would be easy, but I was severely mistaken,” he says. “Responsibilities hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t have the slightest idea how to shop for groceries, make appointments, set up my electricity. I was lucky to have a few mentors -- without them, I’m sure I would have been lost.”

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Children’s Rights has worked with stakeholders in a number of cases to help preserve family connections. After Children’s Rights and co-counsel reached a settlement in a suit brought on behalf of children placed in Connecticut foster care, substantial measures were taken to help kids maintain family connections and avoid foster care when safe to do so. The percentage of siblings placed together, for example, increased from a baseline of 57% in 2005 to over 90% in 2014. Additionally, the placement of children with relatives has increased from 17% in 2011 to over 33% today. 

"Foster care should be the final recourse and, when it is necessary, kids need to be with supportive, loving families,” states Sandy Santana, Children’s Rights executive director. Children’s Rights is proving that failing child welfare systems not only can be fixed, but can be made to run well. They consider it their moral imperative to ensure that kids in foster care are supported and protected. 


Notes for this week:

  • December 10th is International Human Rights Day!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor Children's Rights efforts to protect children in the foster care system.
  • For more information on Children's Rights, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Children's Rights.

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Special Kids Day

year 2, week 49:  this week i'm gonna... help all kids celebrate. 

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It was the holiday season almost thirty years ago, and Rich Rosenberg was the official photographer of Santa visits at the mall. His wife, Barbara, had just started working as an aide to a boy with Cerebral Palsy, which is perhaps why Rosenberg realized that he wasn’t seeing any kids with special needs getting their picture taken with Santa.

“They wouldn’t and couldn’t come to any event that was crowded and loud,” explains Rosenberg. “Kids with autism or Down Syndrome or using augmented devices - they just couldn’t come and get pictures. And so we decided to do something.”

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Rosenberg created a holiday party designed specifically for children with special needs and their families in a friendly and obstacle-free space. It has grown over the years to feature crafts, homemade cookies, music, face painting, balloon blowers, a quiet reading area, and, of course, photos with Santa. Families can drop in for as long as they like, and children can experience the holidays in a way that is comfortable for them. 

"It's really about normalizing and giving a child a chance to have life experiences the same as every other child," states Rosenberg.


Special Kids Day is dedicated to providing celebratory events for children with disabilities and their families in environments designed to accommodate their special needs. Started in 1990, Special Kids Day began as a holiday event that provided an opportunity for children with special needs and their families to visit Santa Claus without having to face some of the obstacles that they might encounter when trying to experience a visit with Santa in a shopping mall.

The original Special Kids Day Event counted 30 children in attendance; now, through a combined effort among local businesses, community organizations, schools, and dedicated individuals, Special Kids Day has grown to serve over 600 families in the western suburbs of Chicago.


The atmosphere at Special Kids Day is designed for kids for whom a usual holiday party is too overwhelming or technically challenging. There is no standing in long, hot, crowded lines to visit Santa, and a professional photographer will spend as long as the child and parent needs to get the right shot. Recently, Special Kids Day was able to expand its event offerings to include a Halloween dance and a summer carnival. 

Events are open not only to kids with disabilities, but also to individuals of all ages with special needs, as well as families and siblings. Rosenberg is especially sensitive to the struggles that siblings can have feeling left out or unable to participate in regular events, and he takes pains to include them in the event.

“When you start to realize the circumstances that (families of kids with disabilities) are dealing with, you realize that this is something that you’re doing for your whole community,” Rosenberg says. “The day reestablishes a connection with them in the community that they often don’t have."

"It is one day, one evening, when we are eye to eye with children, reminding us all that they are a gift to us and our responsibility is to give a little back."

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Portions of this story are sourced from "Giving Back Can Be the Best Gift You'll Ever Get" by Laura Amann in Western Suburban Living.

Notes for this week:

  • International Day of People With Disabilities is December 3rd
  • If you are in the Chicago area or know of a family that would like to attend this year's Special Kids Day holiday event, please click here for details!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will help sponsor this year's holiday event for children with special needs and their families.
  • For more information on Special Kids Day, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Special Kids Day.

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year 2, week 48:  this week i'm gonna... give cash to the poor

The story below is sourced from "How to Fix Poverty: Why Not Just Give People Money?" by Nurith Aizenman for NPR.

Otieno withdraws money from his local account after receiving his text alert (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

Otieno withdraws money from his local account after receiving his text alert (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

A Kenyan village. Young guys in dusty polo shirts, new moms holding their babies, and grandmas in bright head wraps have all gathered in a clearing for one of the village meetings when something remarkable happens. Practically every person's cellphone starts dinging.

Denis Otieno is a father of four in his late 30s. He holds up his phone to show his friends: "I got it!" he exults.

Otieno is receiving text alerts from a charity called GiveDirectly. In 2016, GiveDirectly announced that it will give every adult in this impoverished village in Kenya an extra $22 each month for the next 12 years -- with no strings attached. The money is wired to bank accounts linked to each villager's phone. The alert is the signal that the latest payment has posted. Everyone starts cheering. Some of the younger women break into song.

Today, practically all aid is given as "in-kind" donations - for example, food, an asset like a cow, job training, or schoolbooks. And this means that, in effect, it's the providers of aid (governments, donor organizations, even private individuals donating to a charity) who decide what the underprivileged need most. But what if you just gave people cash with no strings attached? And let them decide how best to use it?

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GiveDirectly aims to reshape international giving by making direct transfers to the poor. Founded by four grad students in economics, they have been advocating for and providing direct cash aid since 2009, and have given $65 million to people across Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.

The GiveDirectly model first locates extremely poor communities in Kenya and Uganda using publicly available data. Then, they send field staff door-to-door to digitally collect data on poverty and enroll recipients. A set of independent checks is used to verify that recipients are eligible and did not pay bribes. 

Once enrolled, households receive roughly $1,000, or approximately one year's budget. Using electronic payment systems, recipients typically receive a text alert and then collect cash from a mobile money agent in their village or nearest town. GiveDirectly then connects with each recipient to verify receipt of funds and address any issues.

To learn more about GiveDirectly, please watch the video below:

Otieno, his wife, and daughter, Gloria, eat lunch (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

Otieno, his wife, and daughter, Gloria, eat lunch (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

GiveDirectly believes they can change the lives of the extreme poor by giving them a guaranteed "basic income" that they can count on for years. They have chosen to set the payment at $22 because in Kenya, this is the food poverty line, or the amount of money it would take to afford a basic basket of food for one person.

The combined $44 a month Otieno and his wife have been getting from GiveDirectly is boosting their income by as much as 50%. Before the payments started, there were many days each month when Otieno couldn't afford to buy his children breakfast or lunch. Sometimes there wasn't even dinner, apart from what Otieno calls "porridge" - water mixed with flour and sugar, "just to fill the stomach." 

With the extra money from GiveDirectly, Otieno can now guarantee his family solid food for both lunch and dinner. And for breakfast, they're getting milk from several goats -- the family used to own just two, but they have been able to purchase three more. They hope to breed them and then sell the offspring, and maybe even upgrade to a cow in the future.

Otieno and his family planting cypress saplings (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

Otieno and his family planting cypress saplings (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

Longer term, Otieno has an even more ambitious plan: "I'm thinking of putting up a forest," he says. Specifically, a grove of eucalyptus and cypress trees, which are used as lumber in construction. Every month, Otieno has been setting aside $10 of the charity money to purchase saplings, and he and his family have been planting and tending them. They should be tall enough to sell in five years, and he plans to use the money to put all four of his children through high school. Each child has a different section of the grove to help him tend. "It's going to be like their bank account," he says, laughing.

Otieno in his grove of trees (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)

Otieno in his grove of trees (photo credit: Nichole Sobecki for NPR)


Notes for this week:

  • November 28th is #GivingTuesday!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will sponsor a monthly payment for approximately 30 households.
  • For more information on GiveDirectly, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to GiveDirectly.

please share the givetwig awesomeness!

Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas

year 2, week 47:  this week i'm gonna... grant a wish

Bridget and her sister, Aidan

Bridget and her sister, Aidan

Wish kid Bridget and her family are no strangers to hardship. David, Shannon, and their twin girls, Aidan and Bridget, were one of 1,700 families to lose their home in the 2011 Bastrop, TX wildfires. The family spent the next two years rebuilding their lives, but tragedy would strike again when Bridget was diagnosed with cancer.

Shannon remembers noticing things about Bridget that didn’t seem right - she looked pale, slept a lot, and began losing weight. She experienced several episodes of severe hip and leg pain and low grade fevers. On August 15, 2014, Bridget was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was 11 years old.

States Bridget: “When I was diagnosed, [my family] was terrified. I was terrified. I kept thinking, 'I’ve gotta be happy so they can be happy. I’ve gotta make them feel alright no matter how tough it is, no matter how sick I feel, I have to make them feel ok.'” 

Bridget's family was connected with Make-A-Wish and she decided her wish was to visit the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas. She knew it was something that her whole family would love, and it fulfilled her dream of playing with dolphins, seals, and other sea life. “I love animals, I love the sea, and I’m going to be a marine biologist someday,” Bridget says.

Bridget fulfilling her wish

Bridget fulfilling her wish



Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy. Granting wishes to kids gives them more than an amazing experience; a wish come true has the power to make kids feel stronger, more courageous, and more determined to overcome their illnesses. Many families and healthcare providers believe the wish experience is the turning point in a wish kid's battle against their illness.

To learn more about the impact of a wish, please watch the below video:

According to the results of a 2011 Wish Impact Study, the wish experience improves the quality of life for recipients and their entire family. Health professionals say the wish experience is an important supplement to medical treatment, and they observe that their patients feel better and comply more readily with treatment protocols after they experience their wish come true. 

“This was a trip of a life time for all of us and something we couldn’t do on our own,” says Shannon. “We all have some PTSD from this whole experience. The chance for the four of us to just go away and be with Bridget and watch her enjoy everything she wanted to do was amazing.” Adds Bridget, “These wishes make kids happy in their time of need. It definitely made me happy and has given me the courage to deal with the challenges I still face because of my cancer.” 



Bridget finished her treatment in December 2016. She has developed avascular necrosis in her hip and both shoulders caused by her treatments, and she must undergo ongoing physical therapy to keep her joints flexible and keep the condition from worsening.

“But she’s alive and walking and happy. We can deal with it,” states Shannon. “Because of the fire and cancer, Bridget is a strong individual. She has learned it’s OK to have bad days, but she knows the importance of having a good day. And she knows you need to make your own good days and enjoy the little stuff."

Notes for this week:

  • Global Children's Day is November 20th!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will help sponsor travel expenses to help a child fulfill their wish.
  • For more information on Make-A-Wish Central & South Texas, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to Make-A-Wish.

please share the givetwig awesomeness!