‘BEAR' nonprofit helps thousands of children in CPS get bare necessities
HOUSTON – One nonprofit organization in Harris County is pushing to bring necessities to children in the care of Child Protective Services (CPS), a portion of whom are abruptly removed from their homes without warning.
On Friday, the organization’s programs are helping tens of thousands of children who may need it most.
“To see any child be taken from their parents -- it pulls on your heartstrings,” said CPS caseworker Anna Scott.
Scott said she sees the adversity that many children go through. She has been a CPS caseworker for more than a decade.
“Even the toughest, some of us have been here for many, many years, it still affects us,” Scott said. “No one expects CPS to come knocking on your door. So we have to remove (children). They maybe have soiled pampers, a onesie, or for the teenagers whatever clothes they have on them. As caseworkers, we don’t always have the resources to go out and buy those and purchase those items.”
It is that conundrum that inspired the start of the local nonprofit, Be A Resource, commonly known as “BEAR.”
“Our organization was started 21 years ago. It is a source for caseworkers to come and get emergency supplies -- anything they need any time children are taken from their homes as far as cribs, car seats, formula, clothing, food. Anything that the child needs,” said Cindy Steele, a member of the BEAR Board of Executives.
Steele co-founded the organization with four other women who saw a need.
“We were very surprised. Not only do these caseworkers have a very, very difficult job each and every day, and they’re out there doing their best, trying to service these kids that need our help, but in addition, when they need those critical items -- they were responsible for A, going to get those items and, B, going to pay for them and not be reimbursed,” Steele said.
Steele and the other founders raised money to buy items that caseworkers may need.
“It was just a room. It was a 15-by-15-foot room where we put necessities. They caseworkers could come and pick up anything they need for the child,” Steele said.
The organization purchases most of its inventory from funds raised through special fundraising events, foundation grants and individual/corporation donors. They also receive donations of supplies. The organization only accept new items.
Meet Megan & ‘Louise’
One of those children was Megan Davis. She was only 7 years old when she was removed from her home in an emergency situation.
“I was removed from my biological family and nothing came with me -- there was no trash bag of clothes, there was nothing,” Davis said. “At that point, we didn't really know where we were going, and I don’t think that CPS knew either, but by the next day we were placed in a home.”
Decades later, Davis still has her most prized possession, a small yellow stuffed animal which she named “Louise.”
“She’s so ugly, she’s cute,” Davis said, laughing.
Her little-stuffed toy was given to her through the BEAR program. She is one of 16,000 children who enter the CPS system in Harris County each year. About 1,000 of those children are, similarly, removed in emergency situations left with nothing but the clothes that they wore.
“At 7 years old, you want to belong somewhere. I truly felt like I never belonged anywhere until I was adopted, so this was something that provided me comfort in the meantime,” Davis said.
To this day, this stuffed animal is something she treasures and saves.
“It has survived through floods -- through Tropical Storm Allison. It survived Harvey,” Davis said.
What BEAR offers
BEAR provides resources through one central warehouse and nine different BEAR rooms, one of which is accessible 24/7. The rooms resemble a small children’s store, except everything is free and CPS caseworkers can come and pick up items for their children. Most of the items are bought.
For every dollar donated to the nonprofit, 85 cents goes directly towards BEAR’s programs.
“Every year we serve about 25,000 children through one of our four programs -- and our four programs are BEAR Necessities, BEAR Back to School, BEARing Gifts and BEAR Graduation,” said Tammy Hetmaniak, BEAR’s executive director.
The central warehouse, which the team moved into in July, has its own BEAR room and also houses the dozens of larger items that are available for the children.
“We have cribs, we have car seats, we have toddler cots,” Hetmaniak said, pointing at a large area of the warehouse where there are boxes stacked on top of each other.
Volunteers also build hygiene kits and stock diapers, clothes and other necessities.
“It’s kind of like a one-stop-shop,” Scott said.
Believing in the care for caregivers, the warehouse also has a room where caseworkers can come and grab drinks and refreshment as well as do paperwork.
BEAR by the numbers
Through their BEAR Necessities program, 21,353 diapers, 1,600 car seats, 1,600 portable cribs were received and distributed.
The BEAR Back To School program provides each child with a backpack filled with school supplies. Last year, 4,822 children received these backpacks.
Thirty-five toy drives took place last year as part of the BEARing Gifts program, which collects and distributes gifts for the children during the holidays. They said 11,292 gift wishes from CPS children were fulfilled and 849 volunteers participated in the program.
The BEAR Graduation Celebration is a program which gives children items they need to prepare for new phases in life, including items related to college or junior college, a new apartment or a new career, according to officials. They said 75 graduates were sponsored last year.
“Research has shown that children with one consistent caseworker have a 74.5 percent chance of achieving permanency within a year,” Hetmaniak said.
How you can help
The organization purchases most of its inventory from funds raised through special fundraising events, foundation grants and individual/corporation donors. They also receive donations of supplies. The organization only accept new items. BEAR has help from volunteers.
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