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Five questions with Shelley Callahan, director of development, Children Incorporated

Did you ever have to worry about going to school on an empty stomach, without a backpack of supplies or shoes?

Shelley Callahan, director of development of Children Incorporated

Shelley Callahan, director of development of Children Incorporated, explains how many children living in poverty in Richmond, in the U.S. and around the world face these situations every single day and how it affects their well-being and potential for success.

Children Incorporated offers a wide variety of resources from basic needs like food and clothing to helping children when their family has faced natural disasters.

We recently had the chance to catch up with Callahan to learn more about Children Incorporated and how it serves our local community.

What is Children Incorporated’s core mission?

It’s to provide children with education, hope and opportunity. Really, the core of what we do is provide children with basic needs, things like school supplies, tuition payments, shoes, clothing and food. 

We’re an international organization, so we’re in 21 countries and eight states in the U.S. We’re also in Richmond and Richmond Public Schools. We work with eight elementary and middle schools here in Richmond. 

What problem or issue does Children Incorporated address in our community?

What we’re really addressing when we’re looking at issues children are facing in Richmond, are families where parents are unemployed or underemployed, where their jobs just don’t pay well enough for them to be able to provide well for their kids, where the school system maybe isn’t able to keep up with what children might need like school supplies.  In the U.S., we don’t have issues with tuition, but we do have big issues with children being able to afford things like field trips or graduation caps and gowns and anything that is a part of a child’s learning experience that they might be missing out on. Those are some of the gaps that we fill.

What do you think most people don’t realize or understand about these issues? 

I don’t think people realize how exhausting it is for children to live in poverty. What a toll it takes on them, only eating one meal a day, and that meal being the one that the public school provides for them. They’re malnourished, and they’re going without proper clothes or bedding, and they sleep on the floor of their homes.

With poverty, people don’t understand the crumbling issue of one thing always leads to another. The poverty that parents face is trickled down to their children and is usually related to something that is distracting them from being able to be a parent that’s present. It could be having three jobs, and they’re still in poverty. It could be having a disability. It could be being absent due to drug or alcohol abuse. It could be being absent due to being in jail.  It’s all these different factors. 

In reality, people in poverty are not available for their children, and it’s not because they don’t love them or care about them. It’s a factor that’s happening, and parents try really, really, really hard to do that, but sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day to focus on everything that a child needs to be supported.

What kind of work do volunteers do to help Children Incorporated? 

The volunteers that we work with on a regular basis are our project coordinators around the world. They’re the ones that run our program on a volunteer basis because they see the benefit of it where they’re making sure that the children are getting those resources that they need, and they have that personal connection with the child to know what they need.

As an organization, we don’t have open volunteer opportunities due to our privacy and protection policies because the kids are in public schools.

We do have volunteers that do some really great things such as knit hats and scarves for kids in the winter that we can then send to our project coordinators or deliver. We have volunteers that made masks to send to kids at some of our programs where COVID-19, especially in the U.S. in the Navajo nations, were very hard hit.

We also have volunteers that are willing to be ambassadors for our organization, so there’s volunteers that love to tell more people about what we do and love to make sure that they’re continuously sharing information about us on social media or sharing our posts on social media to bring more people to Children Incorporated’s pages.

If $100,000 fell from the Sky tomorrow, how would you spend it? 

The sponsorship program, where we support children on a monthly basis for $30 a month, we would love it for people to be long-term committed to it. That’s how it’s designed so that you would stay with a child for a number of years to support them through school. 

I would designate immediately half of the $100,000 to it. A certain number of children would be sponsored for five to eight years and to say we can guarantee that this number of children with this amount of money will absolutely be receiving basic needs for this number of years.  It would be completely life changing for them and their family. 

Our U.S. feeding program is a big deal. I would definitely look at supporting that. If you’re talking about keeping it in Richmond, we do a lot of work for kids that our volunteer coordinators find are in need. We fill book bags full of food for children to take them home on the weekends. It’s a huge deal. It’s sometimes the only reason these kids eat at home on the weekends.

Another fund that I really like that is U.S. and Richmond-focused is called our Hope and Action fund. It’s our emergency services fund. We get requests for everything you could ever imagine. If a family in Kentucky, their home floods and they lose everything, we buy them beds and linens for the kids and cleaning materials.

If you’re interested in learning more about Children Incorporated, visit its website or follow it on Facebook and Instagram. You can donate directly here.

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