This time of year, most kids are making long lists of gifts they want for Christmas.
“These kids, not so much,” said Steve Fugate of Cargo Services, Inc. “These kids are moved from one home to another home, they generally have nothing that they take with them – just the clothes on their back.”
Eleven years ago, the Indiana Department of Child Services decided to change that by giving out backpacks full of books to foster kids.
“The goal is, as a kid goes in, they get a backpack of books. We’re not there yet, but we’ve made a dent in it,” said Fugate. “The program has gone from a person’s personal garage in 2006 to now over 8,000 backpacks distributed, 850,000 books donated.”
Stacy Lozer remembers it well.
“It actually started in my garage because we didn’t have any place else to make it happen and I refused to say no,” she said. “I had local librarians come to my house and we sorted through my family room and kitchen and dining room. And then we finally were able to find a home for it with some space that was donated.”
Inspired by the story of Steve Pemberton, Divisional Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreen Co., the Books for Youth program was born when he shared his story of success.
“He was on a curbside and some lady stopped, opened up her trunk, and gave a box of books to him and took off and didn’t say anything. And he attributes where he’s at in life to that box of books,” Fugate said.
And the Colts joined in early on.
“We started with the book drive,” said Lozer. “Washington Township Schools brought in 10,000 books and Marlin Jackson and Antoine Bethea came and helped unload the books. And that was the kickoff to the big drive behind Books for Youth.”
Fugate and Cargo Services got involved as part of their sponsorship with the Colts.
Last week, they gathered 40 foster youth at the Colts pavilion. Center Ryan Kelly showed up to help distribute the backpacks with the goal of inspiring something in every kid.
“You never know, one of the 25 books they could possibly read, maybe there’s one page that they love and then they decide to pursue a passion in that sense,” he said.
“I already saw one come running over and said, ‘We have this book at our school, but I had to give it back.’ And he had it and that book was special enough for him to come run and tell us about it,” said Lozer.
Colts cheerleader and first grade teacher, Lexie, was at the Books for Youth event. She knows the importance of reading and knows that it starts at home.
“Having that exposure, even owning a book or owning a couple books, having that time and that ability to practice is huge because if you don’t have those resources, then you’re not able to grow as a reader,” she said. “Now, having an entire backpack full of 25 new books, they have 25-plus opportunities to continue reading and reading to grow.”
As Coach Pagano says, “Circumstances don’t define you. They reveal you.”
These kids may have had a rough start in life.
But they hold the future in their own two hands.