By Melody Vallieu
She remembers the forgotten.
The ones that even in today’s society, find a simple pair of socks or a scarf more meaningful than ever.
Tammie Rafferty figured this out quite by accident several years ago when her daughter became hospitalized — and eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Her daughter would remain in the hospital for a year, and Rafferty visited frequently.
“I came to realize early on that I was the only parent I ever saw and found out most of them were foster children,” said Rafferty, who said it immediately tugged at her heart strings.
The Tipp City resident said although the children in the hospital unit with her daughter — children with emotional and mental health issues receiving long-term therapy — were allowed to have many of the creature comforts of home, most didn’t.
“It killed me. The kids are allowed to have just about anything and everything,” Rafferty said. “Other kids in there were wearing hospital-issued items, and my daughter had her comforter and PJs and slippers.”
S0, Rafferty — a former executive who walked away from the corporate world and now waits tables — started by purchasing the 10 children on her daughter’s unit some basic items, like pajamas.
And then Project Believe was born.
Project Believe, funded by private sponsors, makes sure foster children who are hospitalized for a long period of time are not forgotten at Christmastime. The nonprofit organization also does other things for the children throughout the year, including Valentine’s Day, Easter and back-to-school. The program now serves 65 children in two hospitals at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Marsh Foundation in Van Wert.
She said across the nation, there are about 30,000 other children in the same situation.
“Once (my daughter) was released, I just promised they would never be overlooked again,” Rafferty said through tears. “They truly are the forgotten kids. So, it’s just the tip of the iceberg here.”
Rafferty said gifts at Christmas include such items as pajamas, socks, underwear, scarves and mittens — some of the children’s basic needs, plus anything extra the organization can secure. Rafferty’s grandmother — who passed about a year ago — used to knit many items for the children. Now, she said, people from all over the U.S. have now stepped up to help.
Rafferty said two children always continue to remind her the importance of her organization.
First, she said she remembers a small boy who wore one hospital-issued sock and one tube sock.
“To think that that one tube sock was his only possession, that one sock,” said Rafferty, her voice cracking.”He unwrapped his new socks, and he put them on and he came out smiling, sliding down the hallway in his new socks ….”
A second boy — 6-foot-tall and burly — opened his scarf and mittens and wrapped the scarf around his neck and began to twirl around.
“He said, ‘I feel rich, like a king,’” Rafferty said, outwardly weeping. “This is why it’s so important to help these children. It’s just incredible.”
Gifts — needed by this Friday — are coupled with the one gift usually offered by the hospital. They are brought in to the hospitals during the night, while the children are asleep in their rooms.
“We try to make it kind on magical for the kids. We sneak in with the gifts and the staff helps to pass them out,” said Rafferty, who said her boyfriend Matt helps a lot. “They aren’t getting any more gifts, they aren’t getting visitors, so we try to make this special for them.”
On Dec. 17, the organization will have a “wrap party” where anyone interested can help wrap the children’s gifts for this holiday season. The event will be held beginning at 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at Broadway Elementary School, 223 W. Broadway, Tipp City. The free, family-friendly event also will include light refreshments and door prizes. Rafferty said more than 100 people helped last year, and hopes as many will come again this year.
“You don’t have to give a monetary donation, you can just come and wrap some gifts for kids,” said Rafferty, who said her daughter is now 21, graduated from high school and thriving.
For more information, find the organization on Facebook, visit www.projectbelieve.net or call Tammie Rafferty at (937) 266-3074.