When a child enters into the foster care system, there is often little warning. They are frequently taken out of their homes without being able to pack their clothes or even grab their backpack.
These little girls and boys are in the system through no fault of their own. Ninety-five percent of children in the foster care system are there because of abuse or neglect.
Our mission for Holiday Magic is to bring the spirit of the holidays to foster children in Washington, one gift at a time.
Daqwuaya Finley, a senior at Seattle University, is one of the lucky ones. But when she was just a little girl, she was taken away from her abusive mother.
Her Great Aunt was licensed for foster care, so Daqwuaya was able to stay in the same home for 11 years. On average, children in foster care are moved to a different placement twice a year.
Daqwauya saw them come and go from her home. Some of the kids would stay for just a few days.
"I can make an effect on their life for that weekend, and that's it," remembers Daqwauya. "They move on to the next home, and I hope that their next home is better or their families are stable enough to take care of them."
Now, as a young adult, Daqwauya says she runs into those other foster children once in a while. Whether she knew them for a weekend or for years, she says they are her family.
"I don't have my actual siblings, so it's just great that I actually had the chance to live with other people. Even though we're not blood, I still see them as family," says Daqwauya.
Even though she was always a straight-A student, Daqwauya says she always knew where to go when she did need help. Whether it was preparing for a big test or putting together her college applications, Treehouse's tutors and mentors were always there to keep her on the right track.
Some kids, like Sam Martin, start life in the foster care system. His mother was a drug addict who'd already had other children taken away from her. So when Sam was born, right away he was place with his grandmother. Unfortunately, she was an alcoholic.
Sam says he endured years of physical and verbal abuse before he was taken out of his grandmother's home. That was the start of years of turmoil as Sam was passed from home to home.
"I just felt like I wasn't being loved. That was the number one thing for me. I wanted to feel like I was in a safe environment, nurtured and loved," Sam remembers.
Because he was so focused on finding love and support, his school work suffered. For much of his young life, Sam says he was close to flunking out of school.
Foster children, on average, test in the bottom quarter on statewide assessments. Less than half graduate from high school on time.
Although Sam was enrolled in Treehouse's tutoring program, he admits he was a hard case. Often, he simply refused to try. Then, when he got to high school, Sam discovered football.
He had to maintain decent grades if he wanted to play on the team. Sam says he wasn't sure he could do it, but his tutors never gave up. They consistently encouraged him to keep trying.
It wasn't long before Sam succeeded. Not only did he make the football team, but he also graduated from high school with honors.
While Sam was playing football and starting to look forward to college, his best friend had become deeply involved with a gang.
"This was a guy that my very first memories are with," says Sam. "To not have him anymore, it just breaks my heart."
The friend he had known his whole life was shot in the head at a party when he was just 17-year-old.
He and Sam lived in the same neighborhood, both lived with their grandmothers, and they were both searching for the love that was missing from their lives. While Sam was able to fill that void with the help of Treehouse, his friend found acceptance in the gang.
"Nobody wakes up and says, 'Hey, I wanna be a gang member. I wanna sell drugs,'" says Sam. "That was who accepted him."
Sam and Daqwuaya are just two of the thousands of foster children Treehouse has been able to help toward their goal of high school graduation.
This time of year, their focus turns from the classroom to the Christmas tree. Treehouse collects gifts and donations to ensure every foster child has a present picked out especially for them to open on Christmas morning.
KIRO Radio is proud to join Treehouse in Holiday Magic. In 12 hours of special programming, we will introduce you to many other of the amazing kids we have been able to help over the years, and we'll tell you how you can make this season magical and memorable for thousands more local foster children.