's journey to July's $1,000 Awesome Pittsburgh
grant began with a very simple idea.
Even when Bridgette was single, just a few years ago, she knew she wanted to become a foster parent. But several family members became ill, and she put the notion on hold.
Then she met her future husband, Jason, who said he was open to adoption. They married in March 2012 and live in Natrona Heights, where they decided to start a family. But Bridgette developed thyroid cancer.
That didn't stop her from becoming involved in her church's charity, which focuses on services for kids in the foster system. By the time she had finished her cancer treatment in January 2013 and was okay, she knew what she had to do.
"I had just sat and wept one night over these babies who are having a hard time," she recalls.
According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services' U.S. Children’s Bureau, more than 250,000 American children enter the foster care system every year, and half will remain there without reuniting with their parents. Every year, more than 20,000 children age out of the system without being adopted. Of those who leave the system at 18 (or age 21, in Pennsylvania), they are more likely than the average kid to have dropped out of school, be poor and unemployed and, for nearly 40 percent of them, to become homeless.
"I don't think any of us could rest on the statistics," says Bridgette Jodon, who is a special ed teacher in the Highland School District. But she admits she cannot fix the system. So she devised a small change.
Jodon had noticed that kids arriving at their foster homes usually carried their few belongings in a trash bag.
"Of all the things I saw, I couldn't get that out of my head," she says. "It was just inappropriate. I said, this is just unacceptable. It's something we can change easily and show the children that we care."
So she decided to begin purchasing sturdier and more appropriate cinch sacs for the children, which can also be worn as backpacks. She called them G.L.A.D. Bags, which plays on the trash bag brand but stands for God’s Love And Devotion
. Then she began to raise money to fill them with items the kids could use: toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair brushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, socks, small fleece blankets, journals, pencils, small comfort toys and luggage tags. The Awesome Pittsburgh grant will allow her to buy the cinch sacs; she is still seeking donations of the items.
"It's so much more dignified than handing them a trash bag," she says. "We just want to change what we can for them, to be protective of their hearts and what they are going through. We want to say: 'Even though this is a difficult time, we are taking care of you,' and just giving them things that are theirs – 'This is your journal, this is your toothbrush.'"
The Jodons began welcoming their first foster children last week. The kids stayed for three days, then were reunited with a family member. "That was a heart breaker," Bridgette admits. "But that's the goal."
Interested in becoming a foster parent yourself? Learn about it here
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bridgette Jodon; Awesome Pittsburgh