WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) — Children squealed with delight as they reached into their new Colts backpacks and discovered something many had never enjoyed before: books to call their own.
35 foster kids received backpacks – each filled with 25 age-appropriate books – Sunday morning in Westfield as part of the “Books for Youth” program, hosted by the Indianapolis Colts, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and Cargo Services, Inc.
The program was developed in 2006 to promote education, confidence and individuality among foster children and young adults, and has since distributed more than 8,500 book-filled backpacks across Indiana.
National data shows Indiana has more children in foster care than any surrounding state. A consultant who reviewed the state’s child welfare agency this year found Indiana places children in foster care at approximately twice the national rate.
Instability and school disruptions are common among foster youth everywhere, according to experts, and frequent moves can negatively impact academic progress and self esteem.
The gift of reading can inspire children to “do anything,” Books for Youth volunteers said, and acts as a powerful reminder that the future is in their own hands.
“You never know what that’s going to spark inside of them,” said Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who helped serve breakfast with his family. “It’s just a great chance to share what we’ve been given.”
Joseph Plummer, 13, said his grandmother drove more than an hour so he could attend the event. He was excited about the football-themed activities, as well as the personal library he got to take home.
Plummer loves reading, he told News 8, and often stays up late with a flashlight to read his favorite “Series of Unfortunate Event” books. Like other children facing unique challenges at home, he enjoys having books as an escape.
“It can be stressful,” he explained, when asked about growing up in foster care. “I’m used to it. I think it’s harder on my grandma… I’m glad we got to come [to the Books for Youth event] today.”
Ballard reminded children they all have the ability to rise above family struggles and determine the course of their own lives.
“It doesn’t matter the circumstances,” he said. “It matters what you do with them.”
HOLD YOUR OWN BOOK DRIVE
DCS provides collection boxes for anyone interested in holding a book drive. The Books for Youth program accepts new and gently used children’s books for readers up to 18 years old. They do not accept coloring books, magazines, text books, dictionaries or encyclopedias.