Written by Patty Rasmussen Wednesday, January 11 2012
|Danielle Gletow with daughters|
Liliana, 3, and Mia Rae, 4.
Having fostered children before she and her husband adopted their daughter, Mia, through the foster care system, Gletow knew children in the system had ongoing needs.
“I felt there was a gap between the people who wanted to help foster kids and their ability to do so,” she says. “Many of them didn’t want to make that really big commitment of becoming a foster parent, advocate, or mentor, but they wanted to do something.”
Gletow came up with OSW, a mash up of a Save-the-Children type program - recalling the familiar tagline “One dollar a day can help a child”- and a service connecting the specific need of a child with a potential donor. A former interactive marketing professional, Gletow believed the key was creating a website that would provide donors direct access to fulfilling a specific need.
“I incorporated in August (2008) while I was on maternity leave with my youngest daughter,” she says. “I wrote the business plan, creating the specifications for the database and how the site would function. It was the experience I had in technology and marketing in the previous 10 years that really helped make OSW come to life.”
|A young girl in foster care gets|
her wish for "girl" Legos!
“From the start, we’ve partnered with other social service agencies in the community, whether they’re government agencies like the division of youth and family services or other nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Clubs. We encourage these partners to solicit wishes directly from the clients they serve.”
She says, “I didn’t want this to be the kind of site where anybody could ask for anything and you don’t know their background or how great the need is. Our design is more efficient, and we’re enhancing the core service that other social service agencies are offering.”
The following month, January 2009, OSW had close to 30 community partners, and they were on their way. Their growth has been very organic, springing from specific needs and wishes of the children they serve. Wishes are as small as a pair of new sneakers for a quickly growing child or a laptop computer for a teenager applying to colleges. Gletow says they ask that wishes focus on experiences, too, not just “things.” Some children asked for tickets to a ballgame or some other event. Others wanted to experience what it was like to be a policeman or a business owner.
When older children who were about to age out of the foster care program asked for help with employment, OSW developed the Wish to Work program. This program exposes a select group of older children to the same type of career networking events and professional development resources as their non-foster system peers.
|Mary, a teen mom who has|
aged out of foster care, gets
her hair done for prom, a wish
granted by One Simple Wish.
Thanks to a $20,000 grant from the Staples Foundation for Learning, the Wish to Work program launched in fall 2010 with funding to serve six participants. They are already screening candidates to start the training this spring.
Another popular initiative, Project Prom, came out of an idea from a local college student wanting to help OSW.
“She wanted to know if we had any need for used formals or prom gowns,” says Gletow. “We thought about it and said, ‘Yeah, we can give high school girls the same opportunity to shop for that perfect dress.’”
The first dress drive in 2009 netted 150 dresses; in 2010 they collected 500 dresses.
One Simple Wish volunteers set up a “boutique” with dressing rooms and mirrors at the YWCA, and girls were given vouchers for one free dress from the referring agency. After the vouchers were used, OSW opened up the shop and sold gowns to the public for $10, which offset additional costs related to running the program.
“Last year we gave away 250 gowns and sold another 200,” she says.
|Haley catches a ball at her very first Phillies|
game - a wish granted by One Simple Wish
“I’m very excited about this project. We will visit more than a dozen states and talk to caregivers, program coordinators, young adults and advocates about their take on the system -- what is working and how people can help right now,” says Gletow.
One Simple Wish is funded entirely by donations and most of their donors are local businesses and individuals. Grants like the one from Staples, another $10,000 grant from Volkswagen of America and a $5,000 grant from TJX Corporation are rare.
“We receive very few grants,” Gletow says. “In Mercer County, N.J., there are so many nonprofits that are providing what many foundations consider ‘basic needs,’ that they look at services like ours and say, ‘This isn’t a basic necessity.’”
Gletow and the rest of the non-profit’s board direct their efforts on sponsorships, and they don’t just focus on getting monetary donations.
“We always have wishes for baby items or bicycles, for example, so we try to reach out to locally owned businesses to see if they’d be willing to donate products,” she says. “That’s a sponsorship. In-kind donations mean as much to us as money.”
|The Millennium Drill Team helps One Simple|
Wish assemble more than 100 Thanksgiving
food baskets for foster families in need.
“We don’t have big salaries, and we all work really hard,” she says. “Everyone in the office is a worker. We have tons of interns; they really keep us going.”
Gletow’s salary is a pittance compared to what she was earning before founding OSW. She occasionally questions whether she’d make more of a difference working at her old career and giving $10,000 a year to a charity.
“Then I see a thank you note and I see how we’re touching people and making those individual connections,” she says, “And I think there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. There’s no amount of shoes, no amount of fancy housewares or stuff that could equal the feeling that I’m doing something that I believe in and am passionate about.”
She concludes, “A lot of people think, ‘I don’t have $1000 to give so it doesn’t matter,’ and we’re telling them $10 matters, and look who it matters to.”
*To learn more about One Simple Wish, including information on sponsorships or granting wishes, please visit the website at www.onesimplewish.org. Follow OSW on Twitter at @one_simple_wish, and find them on Facebook at One Simple Wish.
Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD, and Blue Ridge Country.