Eagle Scout focuses on an important need of foster children

COLUMBIA—Hundreds of children go­ing into foster care will be able to do so with more dignity now, thanks to an innovative Eagle Scout project completed by Jonathan Hernandez. The youth is a ninth-grader at Car­dinal Newman School and a member of Troop 287 in St. John Neumann parish.

He collected more than $15,500 to purchase duffel bags, book bags and supplies for the Precious Cargo Program, an initiative of the South Carolina Youth Advocate Program.

The items will go to foster chil­dren, who are frequently relocated after being removed from their families.

Jonathan said he decided to collect the items after learning that foster kids often have to carry their belongings in trash bags. He thought something as simple as a duffel bag might offer the kids a little more dignity in an already difficult situation.

Photo provided: Jonathan Hernandez, front, and other members of his Scouting troop, hold some of the stuffed animals donated to foster children.

“A trash bag should never be a child’s suitcase when going to and from foster care,” Jonathan wrote in a letter he sent to businesses and organizations around the Midlands.

The Scout initially hoped to raise $10,000 in donations and receive 100 bags, according to his mother, Nora Hernandez.

The results were far better. People from the community, organizations and businesses came through with more than $15,500 worth of dona­tions and over 200 bags. Members of St. John Neumann Church and groups such as the Knights of Colum­bus contributed and helped put the bags together.

Each duffel also includes a stuffed animal to provide comfort to lonely kids, a blanket for warmth on cold nights, toiletries, school supplies and a flashlight “to provide relief after a nightmare,” Jonathan said. He de­signed and printed a special prayer card to be attached to each bag.

He and other members of his troop collected the items at St. John Neumann School on Aug. 26 and assembled everything in the school cafeteria and gym on Sept. 23.

Father Sylvere Baloza, parochial vicar at St. John Neumann, blessed the donations, which filled one van and two SUVs and were delivered to the Youth Advocate offices.

Jonathan and his mother both said the results of his project went far beyond their expectations.

“I feel really good about how things went,” Jonathan said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be as successful as it was and I was amazed when I saw how much stuff we ended up collect­ing. Every kid should experience a good childhood, and I hope this helps those who are less fortunate.”

Photo provided: Jonathan Hernandez, wearing the brown Scout shirt, stands with other members of his troop as the pack duffel bags for foster children.