This was the question that Nicole Russell, co-founder and president of the Precious Dreams Foundation, posed to a chattering group of foster children at the Salvation Army’s Briarwood Family Residence on August 7.
The Precious Dreams Foundation partnered with the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to organize a donation of comfort items—a comfort drop—to foster children ages four to 10.
Guest speaker Ryan Grant, a retired professional New York Giant and Green Bay Packer Super Bowl winner, came to talk and interact with the children, recounting his own personal struggles and how he coped with them through sports.
The mission of Precious Dreams is to serve children living in difficult circumstances—mainly those living in foster homes or in poverty—by providing them with comfort objects to help them find solace and sleep well.
The foundation’s “comfort drop” consists of items that can provide physical comfort for children, such as “a pair of pajamas, a book, a bear, and two other items depending on the kid’s age,” Russell said. “So the older teenagers will get journals, the younger kids will get blankets. Every bag is customized according to the kid’s age.”
Unlike generic donations, these bags are specifically meant to help children cope and self-comfort through times of stress or fear.
Antonio Rodriguez, the director of special events at DHS, noted the foundation’s unique focus.
“We work with all kinds of wonderful partners to do different kinds of events, but this is a little different,” he said. “The whole idea is to help kids learn how to self-comfort.”
The comfort bags are resources that children—including teenagers—can use to cope with anxiety and other negative emotions.
“A teenager may use headphones and some music,” Rodriguez said. “A small child may use a stuffed animal.”
The mission of Precious Dreams Foundations has found substantial support.
The foundation is funded through donations from several large sponsors—including Equinox and the New York Knicks—and has been a successful partner with the DHS.
“As of now, 95 percent of our income donations go to providing comfort bags for kids,” Russell explained.
The relationship between the institutions so far has been symbiotic, with both organizations mutually benefiting.
DHS connects the foundation to different homeless shelters and acts as a middleman between them. Russell appreciated that the department’s link with the foundation to “the target audience that we’re looking for,” she said. “This is the reason that we started this foundation—to help kids who are in transition.”
Precious Dreams in turn helps the department by providing the foster children with comfort items at nearly no cost to the shelters or the department, as everything is paid for by the foundation except for transportation in some cases.
“We’re fulfilling a void for the DHS,” she explained. “They’re providing shelter and we’re coming in to provide comfort.”
Rodriguez noted the importance of partnering with organizations like Precious Dreams.
“We’re really good at putting together shelters, but we really rely on people to do these other services that are just as important,” Rodriguez said. “[The partnership has] been really successful, and they make such a strong connection with the kids.”
The success of the seven-month-old partnership has led to the comfort drops on a nearly monthly basis.
On the day of the comfort drop, the foster children gathered around and chatted excitedly as Russell explained to them the idea of comfort objects and Grant talked about his personal struggles and football achievements, capping the talk by passing around his Super Bowl ring, much to the delight of the children.
A lot of the meaning intended through the speeches and gifts planned by the adults may have been lost on the children, but the true value of the comfort drop will reveal itself with time. The generic teddy bear may become a beloved, often-cuddled friend, and the empty notebook may become a journal holding all the emotions and thoughts of a child.
The giving of comfort is a two-way street, as for all the comfort that the adults labor to give to the children, they receive back. Their comfort does not come through gift bags or inspirational talks, but the resilience and joy with which the children live.
“Kids put you in perspective. These kids can easily smile, can easily joke,” Grant said. “And at the same time have all the reasons not to do that because of their circumstances, because of the things they’ve been dealt with that weren’t their call. They teach me as much as I teach them.”