Volunteers in Rio Grande Valley send backpacks of hope to foster children when camp was canceled due to COVID-19

For the last five years, the employees of Star Properties Real Estate send  foster children at the Buckner Rio Grande Children's Home in Mission, Texas, to summer camp with a backpack full of water toys, beach towels and bubbles to aid in their camp experience. This year, due to COVID-19, camp was canceled, but that didn’t stop Star Properties Real Estate from blessing the children. They just adjusted their plans and devised a new program for the children to enjoy this summer.

Working with Buckner staff, Star Properties Real Estate started a summer reading program for the children. Instead of stuffing backpacks with water toys, they stuffed them with books. Each backpack had six to seven age-appropriate books, encouraging the children to read and participate in a reading program over the summer for additional prizes. 

“I love books and I remember in the summers when I was probably 8 or 9, I would go find a nice room and read all afternoon,” said Marilyn Haridison, owner of Star Properties Real Estate. “My cousin and I would dig around [in an old storage building] and we would find these boxes of Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins. They were dusty, and they were dirt covered and dog-eared. Some of the backs had become loose and the glue had come off, but they were treasures for us. So thinking of doing this [reading program] for the children, I just hope maybe a few of them would have a taste for books.”

The 23 employees of Star Properties Real Estate all participated and enjoyed donating new and used books to pack the backpacks with. They also included toys and clothes. 

“I really need to brag on my office agents because they took this plan and ran with it,” Marilyn said. “They had so much fun. It’s not a chore for them. It’s a joy. It’s definitely Christmas in July around here.”

At the end of summer, Buckner and Star Properties Real Estate will hand out prizes to the children who read the most books this summer.

“Star Properties Real Estates care greatly for the children we serve,” said Monica Skrzypinski, gift officer for Buckner. “For many foster children, their normal is already disrupted when they are entered into care, so the coronavirus impacted them even more. Marilyn and her staff wanted to make sure the kids knew they were not forgotten and blessed them abundantly. It’s an offering that comes straight from their heart and you can tell.”

The office packed 30 backpacks for children ranging from babies to 19 years old, though most of the backpacks were for children between the ages of 8-12. 

“From an early age, my favorite hobby has been reading,” said Tracie Nicks, an agent at Star Properties Real Estate. “I remember clearly how exciting it was for me to go to a local book mobile in my small town. Reading offered a way to escape the everyday stresses of life. It was important for me to be able to help the children at Buckner find the same joy I experienced, and still do experience, when getting lost in a good story.”

When it came to getting books for the children, Star Properties Real Estate found some help in a neighbor, Ben MacMiller.

Ben does volunteer work with Friends of the Library, taking books the library no longer needs and finding new homes for them. Marilyn contacted him to see if he had any books to donate to their project. The library was closed due to COVID-19, but he managed to open the library and donate many books for the Buckner foster children.

“Ben is such a nice person,” Marilyn said. “I gave him a list, and he went to the library ahead of time and started going through and trying to choose books that would be appropriate to age-related children. He did a lot of the work for us.”

For the employees of Star Properties Real Estate, it’s important to give back to their community, and this is just one way they can ensure that children have a fun summer despite the circumstances related to the pandemic. 

“I like to put smiles on the faces of our youths and let them know others are concerned about them,” said June Leidner Olson, an agent with Star Properties Real Estate.”

“I think it’s important to help your community,” Marilyn said. “And I like helping other people. It’s just a part of me.” 

Find ways you can help vulnerable children in your community at our Volunteer Central.

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