Telling a magical Christmas story in May, might sound unusual but it is so beautiful, it simply can’t wait until December and since May is National Foster Care Month it seemed only fitting to share it now. A few weeks ago a woman from Maine reached out to me, via email, to tell me about her incredible friend, Janalee Moquin. Like most non-profit founders, Janalee truly did not want any attention on herself, said her girlfriend, via email. However, her friend was undeterred in wanting Janalee’s story told and about her amazing work with children aging out of foster care. I am so glad she did…
There is no place like home and for thousands of foster care children each year, who age out of foster care, they sadly do not know that feeling. Janalee Moquin was determined to impact and change that in any way she could. She told me, “I had a difficult childhood, and I know what its like to feel like you have no one. I knew I wanted to help that child, that I was.”
Janalee went on to say that the most magical moments and happiest memories of her childhood were at a Christmas tree festival in Massachusetts, where she grew up. Thirteen years ago when Janalee moved to York, Maine she decided to re-create the holiday tree decorating festival in her new town. She went out and bought 32 trees and asked friends to compete in decorating them, in hopes that people would come together, buy tickets, feeling the spirit of the season and the funds would go in some way to support children in foster care.
Well the first year, while her vision was there, the rest of the town didn’t really see it. The years that followed, little by little the idea caught on. The tree festival grew and grew and so did Janalee’s passion for directing the increasing funds into A Place Called H.O.M.E., which stands for Having Opportunity Means Everything.
Janalee worked with social workers to find these young foster care children who were told at age 18, goodbye. She knew they needed support, love, help, mentoring and just basic kindnesses that we take for granted. Janalee and her group of volunteers began asking these young adults what they needed, what would mean the world to them. Their answers, “birthday cards with our name on them, a care package that has something I like, that feels like someone knows me.” The simplest request.
Today, thousands of people come from over five states to attend the now four-day long tree festival. The people of York have tree decorating rooms set up all year in their homes for the big event. Janalee is a foster parent to a 16-year-old boy and knows that she has recreated her childhood holiday magic for her community, for thousands of children and more importantly for the foster care children her work supports.
She said, “I know I have made a difference when I see a photo of a foster care child smiling holding their birthday card and when I can witness a communities joy.” I asked Janalee, what fuels you to keep doing this work? Her answer, ” This is what I was meant to do and why I am on this planet.”
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