“It’s time to go.”
I say that phrase every day – multiple times per day maybe.
Most evenings, those words make no impact on my kids’ hurry in packing up their backpacks to retreat home, or to quicken their pace toward school in the morning.
My kids are lucky – “going”, for them, is temporary.
For kids in foster care, that phrase is more serious, more dire, more painful.
Children entering the foster care system are not stuffing a monogrammed backpack after soccer practice – they are loading a garbage bag with whatever they can, quickly, with no certainty of ever returning.
To my kids, that sobering reality is a foreign concept – just as it was to Danny Mendoza in 2008.
That year, Danny Mendoza’s life changed. He created Together We Rise (TWR), and has forever changed the experiences of children in foster care ever since.
Starting to Rise: Danny Mendoza’s Story
“I was in college when I heard that my cousin was living in his car here in L.A. I wasn’t 21 yet, so I couldn’t do much. I became frustrated and had to find a way to help. What I felt then, created us. We’re a group of passionate people who just want to help kids – that is Together We Rise.”
The idea of Danny Mendoza’s Together We Rise is remarkably simple, yet undeniably powerful.
As Mendoza reiterates, “We just want to help kids. We are open-minded, unbound and ready to help when and how we can.”
This is not just talk – TWR has helped through numerous programs directed at current and former foster children in America.
How Together We Rise Helps
TWR is the conduit for providing people who are not adoptive or foster parents the ability to help through three primary programs nationwide.
(1) Sweet Cases
“When I heard that foster kids were often given trash bags to move their belongings, I knew that had to change.” Danny is emphatic as he talks about their flagship campaign.
TWR provides new duffel bags, filled with essentials, to foster children purchased via a $25 donation. Each bag comes with a new friend – the quintessential symbol of childhood love – a fluffy Teddy Bear.
“The idea is so simple and meaningful. People can buy 1 bag or several.” Mendoza continues, “Volunteers, friends or coworkers get parties together where they stuff several bags and then hand deliver them to a local foster agency. It’s really taken off. Their work makes a difference.”
Together We Rise provides hundreds of bicycles to foster children – for a $60 donation. The bikes are, at times, given as a means of transport, but, in most cases, as a symbol of the resurrected childhood that being in the system can often rob foster kids of.
“Build-A-Bike, for us, is hands-off by design. When you sponsor a bike, you have to build and deliver it. The donor does the work and sees its impact first-hand.” Mendoza’s voice is matter-of-fact, “The kids love the bikes.”
After a child “ages-out” of the foster care system, Together We Rise does not forget them. Each year, Mendoza’s organization gives ten, ninety thousand dollar scholarships to former foster kids now enrolling in college.
“The money allows each recipient to concentrate on school without worry,” Danny Mendoza’s tone gains momentum as he continues, “We don’t stop there. We are able to provide these kids opportunities to intern or network with our sponsor companies as well. We are with them all along the way.”
Founder Danny Mendoza sums up the spirit of Together We Rise best, saying, “I never thought I’d be here. I never knew how big the issue is or how I could help. But then we did – and that will continue. We help kids – period.”
Tonight, when I told my boys, “It’s time to go” after soccer practice, I thought of TWR – of Danny Mendoza’s homeless cousin and the truckloads of new, Teddy Bear stuffed duffel bags given to foster kids in his honor.
Indeed, it is time to go – just as Danny Mendoza, the TWR staff and its army of passionate volunteers and interns have done throughout the United States.
Let’s go and, simply, help kids – because Together We Rise.
About Together We Rise
Together We Rise is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization comprised of motivated young adults and former foster youth. Our vision is to improve the lives of foster children in America, who often find themselves forgotten and neglected by the public. We collaborate with community partners to bring resources to foster youth and use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system.
TWR works with hundreds of foster agencies, social workers, CASA advocates, and other partners to bring our programs to foster youth across the nation. Our foundation has allowed us to provide thousands of foster youth across the country with new bicycles, college supplies, and suitcases so that children do not have to travel from home to home with their belongings in a trash bag.