Connell student sews bags for foster kids

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldApril 5, 2013 

CONNELL -- Sewing doesn't come easily to Alex Shuster. Yet for her senior class project at Connell High School, Shuster is sewing 50 cloth bags to hold hygiene products and flannel blankets for foster children.

Shuster, 18, the daughter of Jim and Carianne Siemens Shuster, decided on the project last August because she wanted to help younger kids, she said.

She was 6 years old when she witnessed her cousins being removed from their home, and she's never forgotten that day.

"I had cousins in foster care and heard some stories about how hard it was on them," she said. "They could take nothing of their own when removed from the house.

"It was hard to watch and definitely played a big part in my decision to make these bags," she said.

A family friend, Tara Symons of Richland, is helping Shuster with the project. Symons is a crisis counselor with Benton Franklin Crisis Response and also works as an advocate for children at Benton Franklin Juvenile Justice in Kennewick.

"I come in contact with foster kids," Symons said. "Alex's mother knew that and asked me to be her mentor."

Shuster and Symons worked together on a way to make her project the most effective.

"We discussed what could and could not be included in the bags and worked hard on finding donors for items and collecting them," Symons said.

Shuster still is collecting donations of soaps, shampoo, baby formula and baby shampoo.

Other items she can use include comfort items such as blankets, coloring books and Crayons, playing cards, stuffed animals, and other things that are familiar to children, even if the items are not their own from home, Symons said.

Shuster plans to complete the project in about two weeks. They will distribute the bags to local children in the State Dependent Foster Children program and the Child Protective Service, Symons said.

One of Shuster's first tasks, after buying fabric, was to learn to sew.

"Mom taught me. It's pretty difficult, but I'm getting a lot better," Shuster said.

Asked if she'll make a career out of sewing, she replied, "probably not. I just hope the bags and blankets make a difference and help the kids feel better. That they'll make foster homes more homey."

Symons' motivation for helping with Shuster's project is, "she chose a really worthy cause that doesn't get a lot of attention in our community. For her to take this on is a selfless thing that will be so important to so many."

Anyone wanting to donate to Shuster's project can contact Symons at 845-4533, or send an email to tsymons@ frontier.com.

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