Nothing tears at your heart like a child with no hope.
Imagine being uprooted from your home and sent to live in a strange house with people you don't know. To make matters worse, you must stuff your personal items in a trash bag for the journey.
Julianna Lee, an eighth-grade student at Celina (Ohio) Middle School, is trying to restore hope and dignity to these children with “Belong Bags.” Her goal is to replace the trash bags the kids are given with durable canvas bags from Totally Promotional.
“I chose the 'Belong' name because I wanted these kids to know they belong somewhere and there is hope for their future,” Julianna said.
The Belong Bags project is rooted in her affiliation with the Miss America organization.
“One of the requirements is to have a personal platform and I chose adoption. I am really connected with adoption and foster care,” she said.
Julianna was adopted from India and has friends who've been in foster care.
“This is so special to my heart,” she said.
The bags project was suggested to Julianna by officials at the local Mercer County (Ohio) Job and Family Services agency. They will distribute the bags to the children who are removed from their homes.
Julianna is being guided in her effort by Tim Clutter of C.A.L.L. Ministries in Celina, Ohio. The Christian-based organization is collecting donations to help pay for the discounted Belong Bags.
“The project is a ministry under the umbrella of C.A.L.L. Ministries at this time,” Clutter said, adding the future goal is for Belong Bags to become its own nonprofit organization.
C.A.L.L. Ministries has a separate account solely for the bag project. Donations on behalf of “The Belong Program” can be dropped off or mailed to C.A.L.L. Ministries, 420 N. Brandon Ave., Celina, OH 45828.
The staff at Totally Promotional loved the bags idea and were eager to help when contacted.
“It doesn't feel good to know these kids are putting their belongings in a trash bag,” company spokeswoman Rachel Stephens said. “We were happy to work with Julianna to provide them something that would give them more dignity, let them know they are loved and they belong.”
Juliana worked with Totally Promotional's graphic designers to choose a design and bible verse to place on the bags. The bible verse she chose is Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous for I am with you wherever you go.”
Julianna's own life began with a grim start. She weighed just 9 pounds, 7 ounces when she was adopted from India just two days before her first birthday. Her adoptive mother, Diana Lee, brought her to the U.S. and nurtured her back to health.
“She literally saved my life,” Julianna said.
Her own story of hope helps fuel her commitment to the Belong Bags program. She sends this message to all children in foster care:
“If you are in foster care right now ... I just want to say that you really do belong, you are worth something and you will find a way out of this.”