United Way Blackhawk Region
In 1924, Gertrude Chandler Warner wrote a now beloved story of four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny – The Boxcar Children. Perhaps you recall reading it yourself.
In the story, the children are left to their own devices due to circumstances beyond their control. They discover an abandoned boxcar in the woods and create a home for themselves inside.
Henry, who is just 14, finds work in the nearby town and with his earnings, supports the small family. The children are thrilled when one day he brings home tiny vegetables, bread, butter and a small piece of meat that his sister Jessie, age 12, turns into a delicious and hearty pot of stew.
I must have read that book ten times when I was a child. I could daydream for hours about how exciting it would be for my siblings and I to be on our own, doing whatever we wanted, being independent and capable.
As an adult, I understand now how burdensome responsibility can be, what the weight of that feels like. I’m lucky to be almost 60 this year, to have learned from experience that circumstances are often not as they seem, that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that people who value us don’t ever make us feel small.
But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve lived a big life, full of diverse people and places with lots of exposure to folks who are not the same as me. Children as you know are just learning this. They’ve only just begun to navigate the minefields where having less is somehow tied to our likeability, our value, our “belongedness”.
I told you all of that to tell you this: last year, 33,209 children under the age of 17 were served by United Way Blackhawk Region funded programs and services. 33,209. To get a mental picture of that I offer you this, Miller Park holds 41,000 people.
Imagine a child in need filling almost every seat of Miller Park. These kiddos need a roof over their heads to be sure, but they also need a bed to sleep in, a blanket and some hot food. They need access to a washing machine so that they have clean clothes to wear and books to read so they’re ready to start school. They’re hungry. Did you know that your dollars help fund a program that sends bags full of food home with children on Fridays so that they and their siblings have food to eat over the weekend? These children are the Henry’s of today and to these children, you are their Boxcar.
Donors like you have created a space of shelter and warmth for them by supporting United Way funded programs like ECHO Way Home and Family Promise. You provide food and nourishment for their growing bodies. You help them feel safe in shelters, at CARE House and by funding CASA. You give them a chance to unload their burdens and just be a kid in places like the Boys and Girls Club, Merrill Community Center and the Stateline YMCA. You give them fresh notebooks, sharp pencils and new shoes to wear on the first day of school. Remember what that felt like?
You might not meet any of these 33,209 children and yet, your generosity has welcomed each of them in from the cold winds of poverty, uncertainty, fear or despair. It is from a place of privilege that one extends their hand to another and says, you hang on to me and I’ll hang on to you. By doing so, neither one of us will blow away. Thank you for caring for and about the children. Thank you for being their Boxcar.
Image Credit: https://www.boxcarchildren.com/