One Simple Wish
Podcast #33 — Aired June 26, 2014

Grant a wish, change a life. That’s the mission at One Simple Wish, a non-profit that grants the wishes of children in foster care. Our guest this week on BetterWorldians Radio is Danielle Gletow, the founder of One Simple Wish. She’ll discuss how her organization is working to change the perception of foster care and adoption and how more people can get involved in supporting children in need. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

 

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Danielle Gletow
Founder, One Simple Wish

In 2006, Danielle Gletow and her husband, Joe, became foster adoptive parents in NJ and since then their lives changed forever. Danielle and Joe fell in love with the children they met in the foster care system and vowed to create a way for more people to support children who’ve been victims of abuse and neglect in the US. Believing that these children deserved their voices, Danielle and Joe invested their own money in creating One Simple Wish in 2008 and have since become passionate advocates for children in foster care and those that have been impacted by the system. In March 2013, Danielle was named a CNN Hero for her work supporting kids in foster care. Danielle is a frequent presenter at events throughout the country focusing on foster care, children’s rights and social innovation.

Episode Transcript

Raymond Hansell
Joining us today is Danielle Gletow, the founder of One Simple Wish. In 2006, Danielle Gletow and her husband, Joe, became foster adoptive parents in New Jersey, and since then their lives changed forever. Danielle and Joe fell in love with the children they met in the foster care system and vowed to create a way for more people to support children who had been victims of abuse and neglect in the United States. Believing that these children deserved their voices, Danielle and Joe invested their own money in creating One Simple Wish in 2008 and have since become passionate advocates for children in foster care and those that have been impacted by the system. In March 2013, Danielle was honored as a CNN Hero for her work supporting kids in foster care. Danielle is a frequent presenter of events throughout the country focusing on foster care, children's rights, and social innovation. Danielle, it's so great to have you with us today on BetterWorldians Radio. Thanks for joining us.

Danielle Gletow
Thank you so much for having me.

Raymond Hansell
You're very, very welcome. Your journey began when you and your husband, Joe, became adoptive foster parents in 2006. So what led you to become foster parents in the first place?

Danielle Gletow
Well, Joe and I had decided right after we got married that we wanted to start our family through adoption. It was just something that we both felt well, more so me, but that I felt really passionate about. I don't exactly know why, but I had always thought about adoption as a possibility. And when Joe and I talked about starting our family and started to discuss adoption as the means in which we would begin our family, he was pretty quickly on board with the idea, and so we chose to look into all of the different ways in which people can become adoptive parents. And when we found foster care and the foster to adopt program here in New Jersey, which no longer exists, we just felt like it was the right fit for us. It just seemed to call us and we decided that that's how we wanted to begin our family.

Raymond Hansell
And what was that experience like?

Danielle Gletow
It was like nothing we could have anticipated. You know, we both come from fairly comfortable homes, neither one of us struggled too much growing up and didn't have any involvement in the child welfare system, so it was certainly all new to us. And the very first time that we went into a foster parent training meeting, it was a bit of a shock because the things that we were hearing about in terms of what the kids had been through, as well as what had led others to that room to become foster parents, we felt a little bit unlike the others and a little out of place. And I actually remember my husband turning to me at our first training and saying we don't belong here, and I said, no, we do belong here, and this is exactly why we belong here. There needs to be more quality foster parents who are in it for the right reasons. And we certainly were. We were met with a lot of scepticism from some of our friends when we initially told them that we were fostering to adopt. People had comments like, the kids are broken, and why are you doing this, you don't need the money. And I think it was pretty early on we learned that the perception of foster care and why people get involved in foster parenting, the general perception in the community is not all that positive. I kind of felt very early on this desire to change that because I knew why we were doing what we were doing and knew we were doing it because we wanted to provide a loving and safe and happy home for a child who needed one and nothing else. And I think that it was apparent to me from the beginning when we had our very first child placed with us that that wasn't always the case and that we wanted to be part of changing that so that these kids had more positive options. So it continues to be a very unique, unexpected journey.

Raymond Hansell
M-hmm. You're to be commended for taking that journey, especially the insight that you had when you and your husband were discussing it. Now you said that you fell in love with the children in the foster care system, so can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Danielle Gletow
Yeah, you know, I had never I didn't have any children yet. I hadn't given birth to any children and I wasn't a parent when we became foster parents, but it was amazing to me, the very first child who entered our home, it was almost an instantaneous love, and I was just fascinated by how that's possible, how the human heart is able to immediately want to care and nurture another human being that is not of your own blood. And, you know, I think my husband felt the same way. We just immediately felt like we needed to make this child's life as happy and as good as we could and we would do whatever it took to do that. And I was fascinated by that. I'm still fascinated by that now having a biological child and an adopted child. The capacity of people to love so instantly when it comes to children just really captivated me and it was sort of no going back from that point on. The moment that little boy walked into our house, I became a mother. And, since, I think that's been my greatest defining role in life.

Raymond Hansell
That's an amazing story. Now how did that open your heart to the other kids within the system, the other children?

Danielle Gletow
Well, excuse me, Joe and I always knew that we wanted to foster to adopt and so we entered into this with the hope that every child that walked through our doors would be there forever, and, unfortunately, that wasn't the case with our first two foster children. It was really hard for us to see the children that we grew to love and take care of and spend important milestones with, as well as just everyday life with, that they were no longer going to be part of our lives, so that was a real struggle for us. And when my daughter eventually, my daughter was placed with us, she was just three days old at the time, and very quickly after that I found out I was pregnant. We knew, you know, we sort of instantly had this family of four. We knew that we probably weren't going to be able to continue to foster. We were living in a two bedroom condo at the time and we just didn't have the space, and we were both working full time, so we knew that we weren't going to be able to continue bringing children into our home, but we didn't want to stop. We knew that there were so many other children. I was on the board of directors for an organization that had a group home facility and a transitional living facility and I saw firsthand through that experience how many other kids were in foster care that weren't having all their needs met, whether those in group home settings, sometimes in foster parent settings, sometimes even after being reunified with their biological parents. And we just felt like even though we were kind of done with fostering ourselves, we weren't necessarily done with the system, and there was just still so much work to be done in educating people about the needs of the children and what they could do to be a part of it because we saw that that was really lacking. People didn't really know that they could actually help. They didn't have to foster or adopt to actually make an impact, and there were so many things that these kids needed, and we saw that in just talking with other foster parents or talking with biological parents. And in the small things that most of us had come to expect in our childhoods, these kids were going without because they were always moving schools, or they were always moving foster homes or group homes, and they didn't really have the go-to person to say, you know, I've always wanted to learn how to play the flute or I'd really like to play soccer at my school, and so we wanted to bring that to life. We wanted to be able to offer these kids the same opportunities that we had.

Raymond Hansell
Well that's a perfect segue for my next question which is tell us about One Simple Wish and how it works.

Danielle Gletow
One Simple Wish is just like our name says. It was designed to be a very simple way to connect individuals who wanted to help children in the foster care system in a direct way without having to become foster parents or adoptive parents or mentors. It is, essentially, an online registry of simple wishes that children in foster care make through our agency partners, so usually through a case worker or through the director of a group home. They make these simple requests, we list them on the website, and anybody can come to the site anytime and they can grant their wish. They can just make a donation for the value of the wish that's made and we handle all of the fulfillment so that we still maintain that confidentiality between the child and the general public. But we allow people to have a glimpse into the unique desires and wishes of a child, which I think is really powerful. We try very hard to avoid talking about foster care in statistics, and instead talking about the individual kids and what each child needs, because we know there is a person out there who can fill it.

Raymond Hansell
M-hmm. Yeah, that brings it right home. Why don't you share with our listeners some of the wishes that the kids typically make.

Danielle Gletow
So, you know, the coolest thing is probably the fact that there's really no typical wish. I always say that there are a lot of charities that do massive drives for backpacks, book bags, shoes, whatever the case is, and typically end up with a lot of the same thing, and so then you just distribute it out to a group of children. And our program is really about asking the kids what it is they want and what it is they need so that we can be a little bit more efficient in our giving, but we do have the general lots of kids wishing for lessons to play sports. That's definitely a big one. You know, getting the opportunity to participate in a school sport. We get a lot of wishes around prom time for young men to rent their tuxedos or for the prom ticket itself which can get very pricey. We also have lots of wishes for toys, of course, you know, special toys that mean something to a child that they haven't been able to get. And then, you know, there are the really unique wishes. Like we had one little boy who just really wanted to learn how to scuba dive because his big brother in the Big Brother Big Sisters program was a scuba diver and he wanted to learn to scuba dive so he had put in a wish. It was actually one of the very first wishes we granted, to learn how to scuba dive, and we were able to make that happen for him not too far away from where he lived. He was able to go to a facility and learn about scuba diving which was really cool. We also have a lot of wishes that are for experiences, things that kids haven't had a chance to do yet or want to do with their siblings. So it could be going to an amusement park with siblings that they're separated from in care or visiting with a sibling that might be far away that's been adopted. So the beauty of the program is just that it allows children to really ask for something and then see that no matter how seemingly small or no matter who they are that what they have to wish for matters and that they should keep on wishing. That's the coolest thing is we don't have a typical wish.

Raymond Hansell
M-hmm. Well, it certainly is unusual and such a wonderful privilege to be doing the kind of work that you're doing, I suppose. I have to ask you one more question regarded to you. Do you have something that really stands out as either something that took you by surprise as a wish or struck you as being rather, you know, wow, that's kind of funny? Something that really is memorable that happened maybe in the early stages or along the way.

Danielle Gletow
You know, I don't know if I'd say funny, but I think that there have been wishes that have stopped me in my tracks and said, I can't believe that a child has to wish for this. We had a young girl that I think really brings home the situation. We had a young girl named Sarah a couple of years back who pretty much grew up in foster care and then was aging out, so she wasn't going to be reunified with her biological family and she was not going to be adopted, she was going to age out of the system, and she was completing basic training in the army. She wanted and there were family, you know, the graduation weekend and it was a family event, and she didn't want to be at this event alone. She asked the group home that she was living in, you know, she asked two of the mentors that were sort of her case workers if they could come down to, I think it was South Carolina, and be there with her, and there was no funding for it. There was just no one to fund it and they couldn't afford it. And that was her wish was to have people there for her at this family day. And I just felt like, you know, it really made me stop and think how often all of us turn to our families for something and trying to imagine what that would be like if there was nobody there to turn to. So that was one of the moments where I just said, wow, this is really important work. We're not just giving kids stuff. We really are helping them form more happy memories as part of their childhoods and part of their adolescence.

Raymond Hansell
One of those aha moments where you realize this is why we're here, right?

Danielle Gletow
Yeah, exactly. And, you know, that's one of the beautiful things about what we do is we get those a lot. This is certainly a very different career for me than the one that I entered into when I first started working. And this is like every day is at the same time heartbreaking and heart-warming and I feel beyond blessed that I get to spend my life doing this. On one hand, I wish I didn't have to because I wish that there wasn't this need out there, but on the other hand, I just think what a beautiful opportunity to get to be part of somebody's life. And not only that, but to open that up to so many other people and to show them they can really be part of this village, that village it takes to raise a child, they all can be part of it. Like what an awesome opportunity that I get to do every single day.

Raymond Hansell
Yeah, and it's awesome that you're sharing that opportunity with us right now. We're going to need to take a break right now but we'll be back shortly to talk more with Danielle Gletow and my co-host MarySue. In the meantime, I'd like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts, no matter how small, are making a big difference in the lives of other people, we'd love to hear about them. Please send us an email at Radio at BetterWorldians dot com. We'll be right back.

Group
Yeah!

Raymond Hansell
You're listening to BetterWorldians Radio. We're speaking with Danielle Gletow, the founder of One Simple Wish, a non-profit that's brightening the lives of children in foster care and at-risk youth one simple wish at a time. And now let's welcome back Danielle and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, Danielle.

Danielle Gletow
Hi, how are you?

MarySue Hansell
Great! Now when a wish comes true for a child, what impact does that have on their lives? You know, just beyond receiving a gift.

Danielle Gletow
You know, what we've heard from some of the kids that we've talked to is that when they learn that a wish comes true, they feel like, oh my god, somebody cares about me. And, you know, I think that that is one of the best things to hear is that it isn't just actually getting the item, it's the feeling of support and love coming from such an unexpected place. You know, that, and they are always just beyond grateful and I think that comes through in every letter that we receive. Sometimes these wishes are the greatest to these children. The greatest thing they've ever gotten in their entire life. No matter how small some of us may think or how small they may appear, it's just the greatest thing that's ever happened to them. And I think the impact that that has on them, that feeling that there's goodness out there, that the world isn't this bad place that they've seen it to be in their short time on this Earth, you know, that it is filled with other good stuff, too, I think makes such a significant impact on just how they feel about connecting with the world.

MarySue Hansell
Yes. You know, I really enjoyed hearing the story you just told Ray about the funding that was provided so that the people could go to the woman's graduation. Do you have another story or two? I'm sure our listeners would love to hear some.

Danielle Gletow
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, we have like 9,000.

MarySue Hansell
Okay. Give us the ones that really touched you.

Danielle Gletow
It's always hard for me to pick some out because there's so many that just to me personally they've meant something. We had a young man, a wish come in from a young man two years ago that came in from his it was a mentor slash case worker who was involved in this young man's life for pretty much most of his adolescent years. The young man was also going to age out of foster care. He was diagnosed with ALS and he was only I think 19 or 20 years old at the time. And, obviously, an ALS diagnosis is a very traumatic diagnosis. There's no cure and the disease tends to progress rather rapidly. At the time of this diagnosis, he had already lost a lot of function and a lot of mobility, so he made a wish for a Kindle Fire for this young man because he wanted to be able to complete some online courses and read a lot of books. He had this sort of list of learning that he wanted to accomplish before he passed away. You know, it was one of those situations where, again, you kind of stop and think, yeah, I have a Kindle and I kind of take for granted what it allows me to do because it was so easy to obtain, you know.

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

Danielle Gletow
And for this young man, you know, that was a real wish and a real need. So the wish got granted rather quickly and then we got a note from his caregiver about I think this was about six months ago that he passed away. He wrote us this note just to say thank you. I just want you to know how much that Kindle meant to him during the time in which he was losing all of his ability to communicate, and he was able to communicate because he still had some finger mobility using this tablet, and just what a gift that was and how he was able to get through all of the books on his list. He even was able to take a couple of courses online. And just what freedom it gave him and satisfaction and that he was getting to achieve some of his goals. It's stories like that that are just hard to

MarySue Hansell
That's really a great one, Danielle.

Danielle Gletow
Yeah, and it's hard to imagine that that had to even be a wish, you know, that it wasn't just something he got. It's, again, I feel like most of our days are just heartbreaking and heart-warming all at the same time. And that was certainly one of them where we felt like, you know, we were so moved and you feel so happy that he was able to achieve that, but on the same side of it, you're also just heartbroken that this child not only passed away at such a young age, but did so in a care facility without any family and spent his life pretty much that way. You know, not having the comfort of a home.

MarySue Hansell
Mm, boy. Here's one for you. Do you remember your very, very first wish that you granted through your organization?

Danielle Gletow
I wish I could say yes but I don't.

MarySue Hansell
No. Okay.

Danielle Gletow
I don't remember the very first wish but I do know that very early on we had most of the wishes being granted by our friends and family. So my husband and I funded the start of the organization and we never really paid for any sort of advertising or anything, so the organization grew by word of mouth and it was run out of my home office. So initially all of the wishes that were granted were some of our coworkers, my family, cousins, and then slowly but surely we started getting wishes granted by people whose names we didn't recognize. And I do remember that moment of just saying to my husband and to our small board, does anybody know who this person is, and everybody is saying no, and us just feeling like, oh my god, it's awesome. We've gotten it out beyond our network. It's now sort of taken on a life of its own and it's resonating with people. That was a really awesome moment of feeling like other people because, you know, of course when you're passionate about something and you're talking about it at every family gathering, people are going to get on board with it that know you because they want to support you. But this was somebody supporting the mission and has nothing to do with me and that just felt fantastic.

MarySue Hansell
You know, some of our listeners may not understand the difference between foster care and adoption or they may be confused about it. Can you shed a little light on that for us?

Danielle Gletow
Sure. So foster care is meant to be a temporary situation when a child is either removed from a home due to abuse or neglect or the inability for their biological parents to care for them and placed into either a kinship care situation, which means they're placed with relatives or a family friend, or they're placed into a resource home which is a foster home as well which are typically a stranger to that child, so that they can have a more stable and safe environment. It also is what would happen if a child lost both of their parents either to incarceration or to death or to some type of their other inability to care for them, they would also be placed into foster care, which, again, is meant to be a temporary arrangement to provide for the care of the child while the family heals and is able to, if and when, is able to properly care for that child. Adoption is permanent, or meant to be permanent, where and it could begin with foster care where a child enters into the foster care system and a period of time goes on and that child's biological family is not able to successfully complete the goals that have been set forth for them by a judge in order to have their children reunited with them, or they simply choose to sign their rights to that child over to a foster family or over to the state. And in that case, then an adoption would proceed and then the adoption takes place and birth certificates are changed and then that child becomes a permanent member of a new family. So they're very different. And, unfortunately, foster care in our country is nowhere near as temporary as it's meant to be and we see children who live in the foster care system upwards of ten years. And, you know, that's just completely not what foster care was designed for. And it's, I believe, one of our nation's biggest shames is that we have not established a better child welfare system to care for our kids.

MarySue Hansell
Danielle, I've heard that you've said that you'd love to change the perception of foster care in America. What do you mean by that?

Danielle Gletow
Well I'd really love for people to hear more about the good work that's being done, because I think that the more you talk about the possibilities and the good work and the good people and the good foster parents and the positive attributes of these children, the more you'll draw in support from the general public that we need to be involved in this issue. I think that the media has done a remarkable job of really demonizing the foster care system to the degree in which it's actually not doing what I think was the original intent, which was bringing to light issues and hoping that people would get fired up and want to make change. Instead, what I think it's done is it's really caused put such a stain on the word foster care and the foster care system that it keeps good people from wanting to even dip their toes into involvement in it, because why would you want to run towards something that seems so broken and corrupt and filled with incompetence and associate yourself with that world. And so our organization tries really hard, along with other great organizations that do it well too, is focus on what we can do to make things better, because we feel like that's going to encourage more people to get involved in helping this system become what it needs to be. We need more good foster homes. We need more people to foster who don't need the money, who don't look at this as a source of income, but rather truly look at this as an opportunity to share their love and their life with a child. And I'm certainly not saying that that is the majority of foster parents, because I don't think the majority of foster parents do it for the money. However, when these horrific stories come about, the media pounces on them. And so most of what we hear about isn't the wonderful foster couple who has fostered 80 children but rather the one foster couple who abused the child in the home, and then that gets played over and over again in the media and I think that it just sticks in people's minds that that's what foster care is like, and then I think it just draws the good people away. I think if we did more of a celebration of the wonderful foster parents there are then we'd get even more of those. And that's what needs to happen. And the kids, too. You know, I remember hearing somebody say to me once, you know, foster kids are just so needy, and I thought, kids are needy. Forget foster kids, you know. We have to stop pretending like they're not just also kids. I'm a mother to two 6-year-old girls and they're incredibly needy, you know. Of course they're needy, they're children. And teenagers - of course they don't listen to their parents, they're teenagers, you know. Some of the behavior that's exhibited by foster children is exhibited simply because of the age of the child and just what we've all been through. None of us were stellar children. You know, maybe. But I know I wasn't. And so I think that there's that perception, too, that needs to change. That somehow these kids, you know, you're not going to open up your home and a kid walks through the door and have perfect manners and be able to communicate effectively 100 percent of the time and they're not going to throw a tantrum. They're kids! They're going to act out just like any kid would do. And so I think there needs to be this sense of a little bit of a wakeup call and this realism that kids are going to be kids regardless of their backgrounds and prepare people a little bit better for that; prepare foster parents for it just like you would be prepared just to become a parent. The difference is that your child enters your home; you haven't had the luxury or the ability to raise them for the last couple of years and sort of get them to fit into the structure of your life, so those things take time. They're kids like every other kid.

MarySue Hansell
I was wondering, you have so much advice. What would you tell someone who is considering becoming a foster parent?

Danielle Gletow
I think the most important thing I would tell somebody is to make sure that they prepare themselves and I think that that comes from a lot of different angles. I think there's a lot of information online that is good information. There are foster parent associations across the country. I believe National Foster Parents Association has a website they can go to. The Dave Thomas Foundation has a fantastic informational site about preparing for becoming a foster parent. There is a site called Foster More, Foster More dot org, where people can go and find out more about foster care in their particular state because the rules, regulations, guidelines, all that differ from state to state. And I would encourage them to attend an informational meeting which usually involves other people who are existing foster parents and ask them question. Ask questions on message boards. I think the more you can get yourself educated about what you're about to enter into, the better off you'll be. But then on the other hand, I also tell them do it. If you are a good person with a good home and a stable life and financially you are comfortable, you are able to take care of yourself and your family and you want to invite a child to be part of your home temporary or otherwise, I think that people should do it. We need more loving homes. And it's by far the greatest decision we ever made. I wouldn't have my daughter if we hadn't become foster parents. I wouldn't have this amazing organization that helps so many kids every day. So there are certainly flaws and this system is not a good one, but we can all be part of fixing that. So I would encourage anybody who is interested to really do your research. And if it's something you want to do, go for it. And I always tell people they can email me directly, they can tweet me, message me on Facebook. I talk to everybody who is interested in fostering.

MarySue Hansell
Well those listeners out there, you can tweet or email Danielle. Danielle, what ways can people help? I saw on your website that you have some programs Wish to Work, Project Prom, Wish Party, can you tell us what some of them are about and how the listeners can help?

Danielle Gletow
Yeah. Well, you know, the biggest way that people can help, and the most direct way, is to grant a wish. So people can go to One Simple Wish dot org and they can look through wishes based on a variety of factors. You know, if you're interested in tennis yourself, you can put the keyword tennis in and see if kids have any tennis related wishes. We also have opportunities for people to volunteer with us. So if you're a local to New Jersey, we have volunteer opportunities throughout the year where we do wish parties in our facility in our Trenton office. We also host events outside of the Trenton area for children. We usually do those at group home settings or churches and recreational facilities, so we always need volunteers. Of course there's background checks and training that goes along with that. People can also create their own fundraising pages for us and donate back their birthdays. This is something that is really helpful to us and also, I think, a great teaching moment for parents. So if you have a child who is turning ten and they don't really need or want any toys or gifts for their birthday, or maybe they just want handful and the rest of their, you know, that you want to teach them about giving back, they can create their own wish page for their birthday where they ask their guests, instead of coming to the party with a gift, to go online and make a donation through their page and then they're able to, with the money that they raise, they're able to come on the site and pick out the wishes that they want to grant, which is a really great program because, again, it fosters the idea at a very young age that they are very blessed to have the life they have and that they should share that with others. People can also support Project Prom, which is something that, unfortunately, I think is going to go away after this year, but where we collect prom gowns and we set up a pop-up shop during the spring months where girls from our programs throughout New Jersey can come in and they can get free prom dresses, shoes, makeup, jewellery, handbags. We serve about 500 kids a year through that program. And then the Wish to Work program; there are a series of seminars that are interactive and designed to empower kids who are going to age out of foster care to gain some really great professional skills and knowledge to help them as they continue on their path of independence. And we always need volunteers for that, especially people who have experience with things like resume building, interviewing skills, people who can help them out with nutrition, with budgeting. So we're always looking for people who want to help in that way. And we do two seminars a year, which might increase to four next year. And then there is, on our website, there is also a list of other ideas that we have that people can get involved with their kids, get involved alone. There's a link that's how you can help and then it breaks it down into a whole bunch of different ways that people can get involved.

Raymond Hansell
That sounds absolutely fantastic. We appreciate it. And our listeners have an opportunity now based on all that conversation and all those suggestions about how they can make a difference in this very noble mission of One Simple Wish. We need to take another break right now. When we come back, we'll talk more with Danielle Gletow and my co-host Greg. We'll be right back.

Group
Yeah!

Raymond Hansell
We're back now with Danielle Gletow, the founder of One Simple Wish.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, Danielle. This is Greg.

Danielle Gletow
Hey, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
You know, I want to talk about your Ultimate Wish Tour, which is a really cool name, by the way. The Ultimate Wish Tour.

Danielle Gletow
Yeah.

Gregory Hansell
Tell us about the tour.

Danielle Gletow
The Ultimate Wish Tour is our newest cross-country journey. So every year we try to, or we do, take a trip across the country and meet with the kids and the families that we've been helping throughout the year. And this year we decided, early this year, that we were going to put a little bit of a twist on our tour. And we started talking about the fact that we go and we grant these simple wishes all year long and wouldn't it be wonderful if we could help grant the ultimate wish. And there's about 104,000 children right now in the United States who are legally free for adoption, which means that their parental rights have been terminated and they are eligible to be adopted that have not yet been adopted or placed within a pre-adoptive home. So we felt like wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go out on the road and meet with these kids and share their stories. And, of course, not 104,000 of them, but maybe just a few in every state and share the uniqueness of their stories as well as sort of this common theme that they all want a place to call home. And we decided that we were going to make this journey the Ultimate Wish Tour and it has just morphed into something that I don't think any of us could have planned for when we initially had that conversation. Yeah, we are travelling over 7,000 miles from New Jersey to California, stopping in 17 states, and we'll be highlighting 75 children who are legally free for adoption within the United States, and we will be filming a documentary along the way and broadcasting pieces of it in these webisodes as we travel.

Gregory Hansell
Oh, that's really cool. What's your big goal with the tour? You know, what are you really hoping to achieve with this?

Danielle Gletow
Well I'm really hoping that with the tour we're able to not only introduce these children's stories and find potential adoptive homes for them, but that we're able to show people that there's more they can do than just adopt or foster. Because, again, One Simple Wish is sort of getting back to that point that, just because you don't want to or can't foster or adopt, doesn't mean that you should do nothing. And so with this tour, people have the opportunity to pledge their support in other ways; they can write a letter of encouragement, they can send the child certain wish list items that they can have, they can offer to be a mentor - which, of course, gets vetted through the case worker in that particular area - but there's a lot of different ways they can support these kids. And the broader mission is that we want people to see that there are all of these children right here in our own country who are looking for a place to call home and then they can play a part in it, even if that part is spreading the word. So we hope this is just the first of many Ultimate Wish Tours where we go out and we highlight their stories, and educate the public, but then make them act. So we love that idea of awareness is great but action is better.

Gregory Hansell
Sure. I was wondering, are you only looking for forever families for these kids with the Ultimate Wish Tour or are there other ways that people can help?

Danielle Gletow
Yeah, no, we're not just looking for forever families. There's a button on each child's profile page that says I want to support and the child's name, and if people click on that button, there's a form and they can offer other ways that they want to support them. So we're really leaving it as open-ended as possible so that people might see, you know, they read a profile about Bryce and they see that he really loves monster trucks, and so they aren't interested in foster care or adoption, but maybe they say I actually would love to get him tickets to the monster truck show that's coming up in our city in a couple of months and so they may write us and say that's what they want to do. So we've left it really open-ended and just given people ideas on ways they can help because we want people to really open up their minds and open up their hearts and help in any way they think they can.

Gregory Hansell
Can you tell us about one kid that you'll be visiting on the tour?

Danielle Gletow
Yeah. So there are 75 kids on our tour. We are going to be visiting with an amazing young girl, her name is Imani, and she's been in foster care for a significant part of her life. She is 16 years old, she loves fashion, and I've met her in person a couple of times. She's here in New Jersey. She is absolutely just an amazingly delightful young lady. She is one of the kids on our stop and she's legally free for adoption. She has a sister who has already been adopted, so right now she's living in a group home. And, you know, that's really tough for her that she wasn't adopted as well. And she still has some communication with her sister but she's really longing for a place that she can just call her home and she's fantastic. I mean, she is just an amazing 16-year-old sweet girl. She doesn't have any significant medical problems, she doesn't have any significant psychological problems, but for girls like Imani who are 16 who are considered older, it's harder to find them placements because they're not cute little babies anymore. But she's an amazing young woman and I'm very hopeful that she finds a family after this tour.

Gregory Hansell
Well I encourage all the listeners at home to do what they can to help Imani. You actually mentioned one of my questions coming up which was just going to be, is it harder to place teens with a family, but I was also wondering whether it's difficult to place special needs children.

Danielle Gletow
Yes. Yeah to both. I mean, most of the children I don't want to say most many of the children that are on our tour that we're visiting with are either considered older, so they're older than 12, or they do have some degree of special needs, whether those are medical, they could be physical special needs, they could be psychological special needs, but many of them do have one or more of those. And when that happens, it certainly is more of a challenge to find a placement because, again, it's a tricky conversation to have, because if you imagine that your biological children grow up and develop a medical problem or develop a psychological problem, most of us, I think the vast majority of us as parents, would not think in a million years to give our child away. However, if confronted with a child that you know already has these things that you haven't yet bonded with, it's a bit of a harder thing to accept because you haven't had that time to fall in love with this child and raise them their whole life and then have to deal with that issue as it comes. So, it's more of a challenge, and I think understandably so, but there are wonderful homes out there who are equipped to care for children who have special needs. And I have friends who have special needs children and they're amazing parents who just have the heart and the patience and the love that's needed and I know there's more like them out there.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, they're the real angels, you know, the people that really give.

Danielle Gletow
They absolutely are.

Gregory Hansell
Well how can the people out there, the listeners, find out more about the Ultimate Wish Tour and follow your travels and the broadcasts?

Danielle Gletow
They can go to Ultimate Wish dot org. And on that site, they can click through the gallery of children that has their photos and their profiles. And as we visit each child in each city, there will be video posted of the children. They can also look through some foster family videos, some messages from foster families who are talking about their experience in foster care, and there's also a great resources page on there that talks more about other ways to get involved, some of which are step-by-step guides to adoption, others are links to other organizations like CASA, National Court Appointed Special Advocates, where you can become a voice for a child in court. So there's a lot of really great information there as well that gives people other ways to help. And of course, you know, we hope that people will just, at the very least, watch some of the videos, look at the photos, and share them on social media and share them with their friends and family.

Gregory Hansell
M-hmm. I wanted to ask you, you know, earlier in the show you talked about the capacity of people to love. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the movie Finding Forrester; the quote, not the family that is our blood but the family that becomes out blood. And I wanted to ask you in the context of that what you feel you've learned about people since starting One Simple Wish.

Danielle Gletow
It has opened up my eyes to a world of so much love and support and goodness that I think that I didn't even know existed. Just the amazing ability for people to care for each other, a child, a cause, that is not of blood, is really fascinating and beautiful to be a part of, and I think that every person in this world should get involved in just that sense of community that's established amongst those of us who are here for the children. There is really so much beauty in our ability to love a child that is not born to us. I have seen just so much of that across the country. It doesn't matter what color people are, it doesn't matter what they look like, what they sound like, how old they are, what their religion is, you know, I have seen so much love and so many different examples of family that it's really just made me feel like just a more hopeful person. I wasn't always very positive and idealistic, and I think the more I travel and see all this, the more I become because there is an amazing, crazy tapestry of people out there who are coming together and creating families and I think it's just absolutely beautiful.

Gregory Hansell
Well, actually, I wanted to give you the opportunity that in some ways you've given everybody else and share with our listeners, if you had one wish for the future of One Simple Wish, what would it be?

Danielle Gletow
I would wish that we continue to have the ability to reach every single child that has a wish, and to do that, there's just so many things we have to do to get there. But I want to see a time when we don't have to work as hard as we work to get every wish granted. Where we just have some type of, whether it's a fund or a person or a foundation or somebody who can just help us make sure that we're able to be there for every single child and that every single child knows we're a resource. One of the things that I try to do as we travel and with every conversation I have with the media is to say, if you are a child in foster care, or if you have aged out of foster care, we are here for you. You don't age out of our programs. And my wish is that every kid who has had an experience in foster care and needs our support knows that we are here for them. So, you know, I just keep imagining one day some multi-bazillionaire is going to hear one of these interviews and say, don't worry, we got you covered, and they're gonna make sure that we can keep doing what we're doing forever. But in the meantime, everybody in the general public has done a really awesome job of helping us do everything we've done.

Gregory Hansell
Well one last question I wanted to ask you. We have about 60 seconds left.

Danielle Gletow
Okay.

Gregory Hansell
Is, you know, how do you hope the work you're doing with One Simple Wish will help to make it a better world? What's your big long-term goal?

Danielle Gletow
I hope that the work that we do with One Simple Wish just continues to encourage people to believe that small acts of kindness do make a big difference, and that if all of us took just a couple of minutes out of our day or out of our week to do something nice for somebody else, that it could be a much brighter, happier, and pleasant world. And I think that's what One Simple Wish is all about. I mean, taking out the component of foster care, it really is about keeping people connected and keeping people focused on the fact that they do make a difference. Every single one of us makes a difference and it's always your choice. It's always your choice whether you want to do something good or do something bad. I mean, how you impact people is entirely up to you. And I hope One Simple Wish continues to encourage people to impact people for the better.

Raymond Hansell
That is an amazing summation. I'd just like to remind our listeners, when we started this broadcast some time ago, Bill Gates came on the show and said that we need to hear more of the good that is being done in the world. It's amazing the stories that you'll hear. And today we've heard a great story about the good deeds that are done. So often our perceptions of things are shaped by the media or just generally by misunderstanding. Today we've learned that there are amazing foster facilities, amazing foster parents. And here's an organization that you can participate in to make a big difference. If you're willing to take the risk and take the action, you can make a difference by granting a wish, by considering volunteering, by becoming a foster parent, or even adopting a foster child. You can find out more about One Simple Wish by going to One Simple Wish dot org. Danielle would like to thank you for joining us on BetterWorldians Radio today.

Danielle Gletow
Thank you so much for having me.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you so much, Danielle.

MarySue Hansell
Thanks, Danielle.

Raymond Hansell
By the way, we have an excellent line-up of guests coming up in the weeks ahead. And if you know an unsung BetterWorldian who would make a great guest on our show, please send us an email at BetterWorldians dot com. We'd like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the BetterWorldian community at BetterWorldians dot com. And until next time everybody, be a BetterWorldian.