Dec 16, 2020

Fair Haven Teen Helps Foster Children Transition into New Homes

By Lori Draz and Hailey O’Donnell

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is Fair Haven’s 16 -ear-old Hailey O’Donnell, a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School. Hailey is an ice hockey player for the Ironbound Elite girls’ team. Though she’s ferocious on the ice, the rest of her time is filled with a compassionate drive to help others. It’s what led her to start Hailey’s Haven, a nonprofit to help kids transitioning into the foster care system. If you would like more information or to make a donation, visit HaileysHaven.org, follow @haileys.haven on Instagram or @haileyshaveninc on Facebook. Here is Hailey’s story.

From a young age, I have always had a desire to give back to the community. I am an ice hockey player and as an athlete, that community is my team. Being a female ice hockey player has sharpened my focus, taught me to expect more from myself and given me drive. I prepare mentally and physically for each game so I can do my best for me and my teammates. I approach each game with confidence, knowing that when you work hard for what you want, you can succeed. But I have also always wanted to help the greater community as well, to take what I’ve learned through sports and help others have a better life.

My parents instilled the idea of giving back and helping others for as long as I can remember. I knew I wanted to make a difference in my community even if it was in the slightest way. About four years ago, I sparked up a conversation with my mom about how I could personally help others who are struggling in any aspect of life. I was only 12 at the time, living a fortunate life with a stable family to go home to at the end of the day. I was unfamiliar with the harsh realities some people face.

I loved children, and I wanted to somehow help them. My mom and I spent endless hours researching and brainstorming before deciding on helping children in the foster care system. We drove to the Monmouth County Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) in West Long Branch and spoke to one of the social workers. My mom and I quickly learned that while there are many charities that focus on younger children, older children and teens are often overlooked. The social worker explained in simple terms what it’s like for kids who go into foster care. She said, “Imagine hearing a loud, unexpected knock on your door in the middle of the night. You’re abruptly woken up and told you only have two minutes to throw everything you want or need into a black trash bag. Often these older kids are also taking care of younger siblings, so they most likely grab everything they can for the young ones and either run out of time or forget to grab items for themselves. Once they are in the office, calming down, the teens realize they have little to nothing for themselves.” She meant the simple things that we take for granted – everyday items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant or even sanitary products. Put yourself in their shoes. They’re petrified moving into their new foster home, and they’re also scared to speak up and ask for the things they need. I instantly knew what I wanted to do, and I started Hailey’s Haven.

Hailey’s Haven provides backpacks without logos that are filled with necessities to help make the transition a little easier like deodorant and toiletries, water bottle, gum, a journal to write and color in, small games and much more. I also always place a positive handwritten note in each bag to further provide comfort and support during this unknown time. We use plain backpacks so they can be used in school without everyone knowing the teen is in the foster care system.

I knew what to put in the girls’ bags, but I had no idea what to put in the boys’ bags. My male friends were happy to give me a list of clever and necessary items for the male bags. As I started working on the project, I drew on my experiences as a female ice hockey player. Hockey has taught me to put in 100 percent in everything I do. I am organized and goal-oriented when I play, and I use those same skills while I pack the backpacks. I will continue to persevere on the ice as an athlete to reach my goals, just like I will continue to help and provide hope to the less fortunate. I feel so strongly about this charity, and I want to keep growing the reach. I just recently expanded into the Essex County office in Newark, because, other than Monmouth County, this is where I spend the majority of my time because I skate at the Prudential Center. Getting the positive feedback and knowing that I am helping teens motivates me and is a constant reminder of why I started this charity. I want to be an inspiration to people who also have a passion for helping those in the foster care system and do whatever I can to make positive change happen.

If something is important to you, whether it’s winning in sports, helping others, being kind to people and animals, or pursuing a career in the arts, you can do more than you can imagine when you put 100 percent of your effort into it and reach out to others for their help and advice. Stay strong and hang in there!