A student at Penn State Hazleton is organizing an effort that will benefit foster children in Luzerne County.
Lauren Nietz, a junior from Coaldale who is studying rehabilitation and human services, is asking her fellow students along with faculty and staff to participate in “Operation Duffle Bag” by donating new or gently used duffle bags, backpacks, drawstring bags or suitcases. She will take all bags collected to Hazleton-based Brandon’s Forever Home (BFH), which will distribute them to children in the foster care system.
Nietz learned more about foster children during a class with Lorie Kramer, assistant teacher professor of rehabilitation and human services, and thought over the summer about what she might be able to do to help. She spoke with Kramer and Garrett Huck, assistant professor of rehabilitation and human services, and reached out to Lorine Ogurkis, co-founder of Brandon’s Forever Home. She learned that there are 500 foster children in Luzerne County alone and found out more about “Operation Duffle Bag” conducted by Brandon’s Forever Home.
“I learned that foster children often take their belongings from house to house in a garbage bag, and it broke my heart. If I was in that position and all of my belongings fit in something used for trash, I would feel like I’m something disposable. I don’t feel like any kid should ever feel like that,” she explained.
The bag drive at Penn State Hazleton starts Monday, Oct. 9, and runs through Friday, Oct. 13. Bags can be dropped off in Upper Butler during the common hour each day (12:15 to 1:15 p.m.) or in Kramer’s or Huck’s office in the Graham Building. Nietz will arrange to have the bags taken to Brandon’s Forever Home for distribution.
Nietz encouraged the Penn State Hazleton campus community to get involved with the drive, saying, “No matter how small, you can make a world of difference for a child.”
Huck said, “I was impressed that one of our RHS students recognized the importance and value of a child's dignity, and how something as simple having a ‘nice bag’ to transport one’s belongings in can foster a sense of self-respect. It was very encouraging to me that Lauren was willing to take on such an initiative for no reason other than giving to children in need. Working with students like Lauren, makes my role as an educator here at Penn State Hazleton such a gratifying experience.”
Her RHS classmates have been receptive to her idea and have asked how they can help, Nietz said. They’ve been involved with making posters to promote the bag drive and will take turns sitting with her during the collection times.
“That says a lot for our campus and the people on campus because they’re all so willing to volunteer to help. Dr. Kramer and Dr. Huck have also been really helpful in sitting down and talking with me about the project and how to start it at our campus,” she said.
Ogurkis said, “When Lauren found out that children entering foster care are typically provided garbage bags to pack their belongings in when being removed from their abusive and/or neglectful family, she decided to partner with BFH to collect backpacks and duffle bags. Since 2014, BFH has made sure all local children removed from abusive families are provided a duffle bag packed with dental kits, a stuffed animal and pajamas if needed. All children deserve a forever family and to be treated with dignity. Through our partnership, Penn State Hazleton and Brandon’s Forever Home are helping children in need together.”