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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Nov 19, 2020

RFH Junior Creates Organization to Help Foster Kids

By Lori Draz

Hailey O’Donnell

The stresses and confinement brought on by the pandemic have sadly resulted in an increase in domestic and substance abuse, child pornography and increases in child abuse, yet to be discovered. The kids who are removed from their homes for issues such as severe abuse, neglect or parental substance abuse issues receive none or little warning, with only a few minutes to gather belongings in plastic bags. That’s everything from clothing to personal care items to sentimental treasures. They are moving from a chaotic home into the strange, new environment with few of the everyday items they need.

Recognizing the turmoil of these teens, Hailey O’Donnell, a 16-year-old junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, began Hailey’s Haven, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the primary mission being “teens helping teens.”

O’Donnell said, “I thought about what it must feel like to move into a new home and be timid with their new setting. We try to make that initial transition a little easier.”

The Fair Haven teen lives with her mom, dad, 3-year-old brother, TJ, and the family dogs, Mr. Magoo and Nemo.

“My parents have always said that it’s not what you do when people are watching; what is really important is what you do when there is no one around,” she said. “I feel giving back should be a way of life, not a one-and-done. Everyone can do something to make this world a better place. Even a simple smile to a stranger can change their entire day! I realized how blessed we were when my brother TJ was born in December 2016. That’s when I decided to do something to give back in a bigger way and started planning Hailey’s Haven, Inc.”

O’Donnell and her mom completed their original needs assessment at the Monmouth County NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP), formally known as the NJ Division of Youth and Family Services. She decided to provide a bookbag filled with essential items to support the mind, body and spirit of teens during the transition to a foster home. Each bag is thoughtfully picked out by O’Donnell and other teens, and it is stuffed each with items all teens use throughout the day, including water bottles, notebooks, pens, a game to keep their mind occupied, meditation coloring pages, colored pencils, gum, a blanket and personal hygiene items to help them feel more comfortable. Each bag also includes a handwritten inspirational note from O’Donnell.

The administrators at DCPP say the teens love the bags, noting they bring some joy and calm to a scary situation.

O’Donnell is currently planning a fundraiser. If you would like to donate or become a teen ambassador, visit HaileysHaven.org. You can also find the organization on Instagram and on Facebook.

A special note: School is one of the most important places to identify youngsters in abusive situations. Teachers and classmates spot bruises, mood changes and other identifiers. Until schools have fully reopened, all are asked to be observant and aware of any child who may be caught in abusive conditions.