Editor's note: The following is a guest article written by Shannon Von Allmen, executive director of Birthday Blessings.

“It’s okay. I have been asked these questions many times,” said Anie, whose name is changed to protect her identity. She is in Missouri state custody. “I don’t mind talking about this stuff.”

Anie and her younger brother entered foster care in another state when she was a small child. They were adopted and moved to Missouri with their ‘forever family’ when she was just six years old. After being abused by their adoptive parents, she and her brother entered the Missouri foster system when she was 11 years old.

Now, almost a decade later, she can effortlessly list the order of foster homes and residential facilities she has lived in. There were seven different placements in the first five years – each one requiring a move to a different community.

“At the first group home I went to, all the girls were older. There were a lot of them. I had just lost my parents. I was trying to fit in. I had very mixed emotions about all of it. It was really hard,” she said.

“I went to another group home. They had a really strict dress code for girls. Our knees couldn’t show. We also weren’t allowed to have any electronics. There were boys there, but in a separate area. They didn’t have as many rules. They were allowed phones. I didn’t think it was very fair,” Anie recounted.

She and her brother had been together until they moved to this facility. They were housed in separate areas and lived there for almost two years. They really wanted to be placed in a foster home together so they actively worked to get kicked out.

“I acted out a lot. Granted, I had no stability. I was trying to get foster parents. They kept trying to place us in group homes. We wanted to stay together,” Anie said. While they were successful in getting kicked out, they were never placed together again due to lack of space in foster homes.

She stated some of the traditional foster homes weren’t much better. She recounted a move to one house that was overcrowded. She had accumulated several trash bags of belongings during her years in care. Her foster dad told her she couldn’t keep it all. She was given one tote to put as much as she could in. The foster dad took everything else she owned to a thrift store.

“Out of everything, switching schools was the hardest. That, and trying to bond with new foster parents,” the college student stated. “I had to grow up a lot faster. Plus, I felt like I didn’t protect my brother.”

The siblings entered care in an area where Birthday Blessings had just started operating. The nonprofit strives to add hope and cheer to the lives of kids in care, while also targeting physical and emotional needs. They collaborate with Children’s Divisions, Court Appointed Special Advocates and other advocacy organizations for maximum impact in the foster community.

"We send items like duffel bags, backpacks, school supplies, new books, bedding, and toys to kids in care. Our volunteers spend a lot of time tailoring services to the needs of each child,” said Shannon VonAllmen, Executive Director of Birthday Blessings. “We really want the kids to know someone spent time thinking about them. You can’t place a value on making a lonely child feel loved and seen.”

“We are turning 10 on April 1st ! We have served thousands of kids in the last decade, and we really wanted to do something to honor them. Anie was an obvious choice to feature. She has overcome so much and is now a functional young adult,” said VonAllmen.

Anie believes support from the nonprofit added happiness to the instability of frequent moves and other stresses of life in care.

“When I was in sixth grade, the foster parents I was with were not into celebrating. Someone dropped a Birthday Blessings bag off. I was so happy! As soon as they left, my foster mom and I started baking the birthday cake together. It’s one of the best memories I have of being in that home,” the young adult said.

Fortunately, at age 16, her life changed for the better. She moved to a foster home where she felt loved and valued. As she got older, she started helping her foster mom with the other kids in care.

“I hit it off with my new foster mom. I have been with her for four years. Even though I don’t live with her anymore, she is still my mom,” she said. “When I turn 21, she is going to adopt me.”

The stability of a functional home environment was just what Anie needed. She graduated from high school and moved to an apartment that same day. She enrolled in college and got a job. She attributes her motivation to breaking the cycle of abuse in her biological and adoptive families.

“I do a lot to make sure I don’t end up like them. I am working on an Associate’s degree in criminal justice. I want to join the Missouri State Highway Patrol and eventually become a detective,” she said. Soon she is starting a second job. Her goal is to save enough money from that job to put a down payment on a home of her own.

Birthday Blessings will continue supporting Pettis and Cooper County kids in care. They are having a 10th Birthday Donor Match Event. Vickie Witthaus, a Hannibal resident, will be matching up to $10,000 in monetary donations March 27th through April 1st. Donations can be made online at www.birthday-blessings.org or mailed to Birthday Blessings, 429 Aid Ave, West Plains MO 65775. Donations postmarked during the event will count toward the match total. Call 417-372-5306 for more information.

In the photos:
Below: Shannon VonAllmen, Executive Director of Birthday Blessings, with a care package for a foster teen living in a residential facility. The nonprofit sends these out seasonally to add an emotional boost to these vulnerable kids.

At top, "Anie" whose identity is protected, wraps a gift for a foster child. As an adult, she wants to help other kids in Missouri state custody.

Shannon Von Allmen
Shannon Von Allmen



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