This Non-Profit Is Changing the Lives of 400,000 Foster Kids—One Duffle Bag at a Time

When foster kids get shuttled from one placement to another, they often end up packing their belongings in garbage bags—and that's only one of many indignities they suffer. One organization is working to change that for the more than 400,000 children in the American foster care system, and the result is more powerful than you can imagine.

04-a-non-profit-giving-foster-kids-hope-nathan-garciaCourtesy Nathan Garcia, Together We Rise

When Danny Mendoza discovered that his nine-year-old cousin was living in a car, he desperately tried to find him a home. In the process, he became aware of the startling realities facing children in foster care every day, especially those under the age of 21.

“I was just stunned with the statistics,” he said. “Determined to help, Mendoza began searching for ways to assist children in the foster care system, short of becoming a foster parent himself.

The journey inspired him to create an organization with his friends that would change the way youth experience foster care, and Together We Rise was born.

03-a-non-profit-giving-foster-kids-hope-nathan-garciaCourtesy Nathan Garcia, Together We Rise

The volunteer-based, national non-profit, based in La Brea, California, is managed by young adults with a passion for changing the lives of the more than 400,000 American children in the foster care system. They host fundraising events throughout the year that provide assistance for foster children of all ages, including those who have “aged out” of the system. (Foster children are often forced to provide for themselves as soon as they become 18. This can be a rough introduction to adulthood, especially if the teen doesn’t have the right support system in place to ensure their success as an independent individual.)

“We help almost 60,000 kids per year nationwide,” Mendoza says. “Our funding comes from donors across the country who want to help make foster care a little better in their communities. All of our money stays local to the county that it came from. We work with the donors to provide new duffle bags, bikes, and shopping sprees to children in foster care.” More importantly, Together We Rise strives to give foster children a brighter future and a sense of normalcy and belonging, according to the organization’s mission statement.

01-a-non-profit-giving-foster-kids-hope-nathan-garciaCourtesy Nathan Garcia, Together We Rise

People who want to help foster children locally can donate money for bikes or “sweet cases,” which are colorful duffle bags given to foster kids so they don’t have to carry their belongings in trash bags. Each case includes essentials and special gifts, like a teddy bear to provide comfort during a time they need it the most. People can also sponsor scholarships or host a volunteer day to donate and pack sweet cases. For more information, see the Together We Rise website.

Danny Mendoza isn’t the only one creatively changing the lives of foster kids. See the unique way this photographer is doing her part.

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Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.