Fostering hope


October 31, 2023

A partnership with SouthPark Mall is one of many ways Congregations for Kids supports foster children, families and social workers in Charlotte.

by Michelle Boudin

Eighteen-year-old Juliette laughs excitedly when she talks about her recent shopping trip to SouthPark Mall. With the help of a personal shopper and generous donations and discounts from some of the stores, the teen got a new wardrobe for her new job and school. It was a bright spot in what’s been an otherwise terrible year.

She was just 17 when she suddenly lost her mom in a deadly accident. With no relatives to take her in, she and her younger brother were placed in foster care until Juliette turned 18 and was abruptly forced out on her own. Juliette found an apartment, got a job as a barista at Starbucks and started classes at Central Piedmont Community College. But she didn’t have much in the way of clothing — until she learned about Congregations for Kids (CFK), a local nonprofit that connects foster kids and families with people in the community who can help them. The agency set her up with Suzanne Libfraind, SouthPark Mall’s personal shopper. “It was really fun,” Juliette says. “I got a little bit of everything — jeans from Old Navy, dresses, shoes from [The] Athlete’s Foot. It was really amazing that people are willing to help and support foster kids.”

“The transformation these kids experience on these shopping trips would bring most people to tears.”

Earlier this year, CFK partnered with the mall to help Juliette and others like her. Libfraind says as soon as she heard about CFK she wanted to help, and she spent six months working to bring stores on board to make it happen. Many foster kids leave home with nothing but a trash bag filled with a few clothing items, and Libfraind wanted to fix that.

“I just want these kids to have this experience — come into the mall, and let’s choose what you want. These kids all need a break,” she says. So far, she’s shopped with almost two dozen kids and plans to keep growing the program.

The program is an offshoot of Congregations for Kids CAREnow, a technology platform that works like an Amazon shopping list where social workers request specific items that kids need, donors can buy them, then CFK delivers them. It’s one of four pathways CFK helps champion kids in foster care. Others are recruiting and training foster parents, matching foster children with mentors, and supporting child-welfare social workers.

Personal shopper Suzanne Libfraind helps foster kids shop for clothes and shoes through a partnership between SouthPark Mall and CFK.

CFK’s Executive Director Nicole Taylor says the new mall partnership has been life-changing for all involved — including her. “[These teens and young adults] not only get a special gift bag from SouthPark Mall, but a CFK volunteer along with a personal shopper helps them to pick out shoes, clothing, seasonal items, and the necessities like socks and underwear. 

“The transformation these kids experience on these shopping trips would bring most people to tears. I’ve been on a few of these trips, and I will never forget taking a 12-year old girl to pick out shoes. She told me her favorite color was pink, and then she passed right by a pink pair of Nikes that were on display. When I pointed them out to her, she said ‘I didn’t think I could get the Nikes.’ When she realized she could and tried them on, she began to sob, saying she never thought she would be able to wear something like that.” 

Since CFK started six years ago, the organization has served 3,500 kids, families and the social workers who help them, but Taylor says there is much more to be done.

“Kids in foster care are hidden. They are fiercely protected by the government, so much so that their stories become invisible. CFK brings light to these stories but more importantly gives the community real, tangible ways in which they can do something to help. Not everyone needs to be a foster parent — there are so many other ways to use gifts and talents to come alongside these children and teens.”  SP

Featured image: CFK Executive Director Nicole Taylor.

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