It's the little things that remind Stacy Eleczko daily about why she volunteers with Mercy for America's Children, the Wake Forest-based group that advocates for children in the foster system.
They are the grins from her own four-year-old son, the moments watching him play in their home.
"The biggest thing is just knowing that some of these kids don't have that sense of safety and security and comfort," said Eleczko, a teacher and Raleigh mom of one. Her son "has the opportunity to understand what love is like and I think every kid deserves that."
Pam Taylor, a Wake Forest mom, founded the group in 2011. Taylor and her husband adopted two boys at the ages of 7 and 9, who had been in the foster care system for nearly five years. Today, Taylor is the group's executive director.
The group's focus, right now, is on the 600 children in Wake County's foster system. But the hope is to make a difference in the lives of the more than 500,000 foster children across the country. The majority of those children are older and will move through five to 15 homes, Eleczko tells me. There is little support for them once they leave the system.
"It's heartwrenching," said Eleczko, whose classrooms have included foster kids.
The group has five goals - to connect families with children and kids with the help that they need; to advocate for kids in the foster system; to work to reform the system; to educate the public about the issues; and to support families who adopt children before, during and after the process.
Part of their work is to combat misconceptions about adopting from the foster system, Eleczko said. It's free, for instance, to adopt children from the foster care system. A monthly stipend is included for their care. And when a child over 12 is adopted, tuition, fees, books and room and board are covered at community colleges and public universities in North Carolina.
Last year, the group held a Christmas party at Jellybeans Skate Center for all 600 children in Wake's system. They roller skated, ate pizza and visited with Santa. Eleczko remembers one young boy who ran and jumped right on Santa's lap when he saw him.
"He just hung on for dear life," she said. "You could tell how much it meant to him to see Santa."
It's moments like those that kids like that little boy could use more of.
Mercy for America's Children will hold its first gala fundraiser on Feb. 23 at The Cotton Company in Wake Forest. Tickets are $65 for individuals and $125 for couples. The evening includes a live band, dancing, entertainment, a silent auction, food and more. Sounds like a fun date night or moms' night out.
For details about the gala and Mercy for America's Children, go to the website. Hear more from Eleczko in my video interview with her.
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