There’s the system, and then there’s love.
Quinn Mitchell is a member of what’s called a Love Box, an ensemble of volunteers who support children as they move through the foster care system on the North Olympic Peninsula.
These Love Boxers will cook a meal on a weeknight, bake a birthday cake or take a pair of siblings out for a day on Mitchell’s family farm.
Olympic Angels, the nonprofit organization established two years ago in Port Townsend, is the umbrella over such volunteers.
This year is turning out to be a time of major expansion: Olympic Angels, which raised a total of $231,000 for its programs in 2021, has just won two grants for growth in Clallam County.
The Murdock Charitable Trust, which makes grants across the Pacific Northwest, awarded $154,500, while Clallam County’s Behavioral Health fund has granted $55,943.
The Murdock money, to be spread over three years, will fund a Clallam County case manager to join Olympic Angels’ Peninsula-wide staff. Executive Director Michael D’Alessandro and founder Morgan Hanna have just begun talking with applicants for the position.
“We’d still love to see more applications come in,” said April Thompson, the Angels’ development and marketing manager.
Along with the Olympic Angels team, case managers coordinate Love Box volunteers and the foster children they’re matched with. They also work with the organization’s Dare to Dream volunteers, who mentor teenagers as they near the time when they will age out of foster care.
A full description of the case manager position can be found at olympicangels.org/jobs.
Mitchell, 39, knew she wanted to do something to help children in Sequim, where her family roots are at least six generations deep. Yet as a woman with a full-time profession and a toddler at home, she wasn’t sure how much time she had to give.
One day, she was talking with a woman patient — Mitchell is a dentist — about the foster care system, which suffers from shortages of foster parents and continual upheaval for foster kids.
“She said, ‘I have a person you should meet,’” Mitchell recalled.
The woman invited Mitchell over for scones. Hanna, who, with her husband Ian, started Olympic Angels, was the other guest.
So began Mitchell’s Love Box discovery: As a volunteer with the Angels, you’re not out there alone, and the things you do need not be fancy.
She now belongs to a Love Box of eight people.
Following background checks, matchmaking and training, Love Boxers choose the ways they support their kids. The mission is twofold: surround these youngsters with caring and give the foster parents some help.
Mitchell has dinner with the kids about every other week. When she can, she brings them to the farm to see the animals. This summer, she added, a camping trip would be a blast.
At the same time, members of her Love Box group give support in other ways. One, for example, enjoys shopping, and picks up groceries and household items for the family once a month.
“I feel like a very boring adult; we do very ordinary things,” Mitchell said — but those things provide a sense of peace and normalcy for two young children who have lived in a series of houses with parents and foster parents.
When school started this past year, Mitchell and the whole Love Box group took the kids school shopping at Costco, “and then we sat outside and ate pizza,” she recalled.
Love Box volunteers are needed in Jefferson County as well as Clallam, Thompson said. So are Dare to Dream mentors.
Olympic Angels’ 2021 Impact Report describes one D2D year: mentor and teenager took 10 hikes around the Peninsula, had 13 meals together, visited possible colleges across the region, celebrated high school graduation and then found housing at college.
This stands in joyful contrast to the fate of too many foster children who age out of the system. One in five former foster children will be homeless after the age of 18, Olympic Angels notes on its website.
More information about mentoring, volunteering and supporting such youngsters — at any level — can be found at Olympicangels.org.
Mitchell’s Love Box crew has followed their two kids through five moves in two years, Thompson noted. That’s inherently traumatic, she said, “but the Love Box is coached to stick with the kids through it all. Quinn and the group just go with the kids as sort of a package deal.
“The goal of the Love Box program is consistent, healthy adults who are there so the kids don’t fall through the cracks, even just through the educational cracks. This Love Box is there to make sure the kids are seen by the school, have their needs met and the ability to graduate alongside their peers, eventually.
“In order for them to beat the statistics of kids in care, the Love Box has to remain in place beyond the state letting go. The kids and family lose all of the other support, but they don’t lose the Love Box. We want their family to be deeply successful,” Thompson said.
“We are 100 percent committed to these kids.”