By PERLA ARELLANO
After raising funds in the fall and spring, Badger Hearts members hosted their annual Hope Chest Banquet Saturday at Amarillo College.
Ten foster youths received certificates of graduation sent by Gov. Rick Perry, and three AC students received Hope Chest checks from Texas Child Protective Services, said Lesley Ingham, a speech instructor and club adviser.
Featured speakers were David Lee, Badger Hearts founding president, and Keith Howard, director of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, an emergency placement shelter for foster children in Amarillo.
Lee said the Hope Chest project already was in practice by AC faculty but that the idea to start Badger Hearts was that of a classmate, Justin Bagwell.
“We decided to start a club built around the Hope Chest part of it and with our future plans of expanding it even further,” Lee said. “We shared the same vision in that through hard work and dedication, every dollar that we raise we wanted to give it back to the community.”
Lee said a week before starting preparations for the new club, Bagwell informed him he was transferring to Texas Tech University. Although he did not feel prepared to start a club on his own, Lee said Bagwell encouraged him to continue.
In fall 2004, Lee completed paperwork and planned the club. The first meeting spring 2005 was attended by about 30 people, he said. Because of the first meeting’s abundant attendance, Lee said he was disappointed when only six people attended the second. His hopes went up after he was able to get to know the people.
“It was very refreshing knowing that these six people shared the same vision,” he said.
Lee said when he attended the Texas A&M University College of Pharmacy, he was asked by his dean what he was proud of. The first thing that came to his mind was Badger Hearts and giving back to the community.
“If someone asks you the same question, what will your answer be?” he asked.
At the banquet, Howard said 50 percent of children in the foster care system graduate from high school, 10 percent go on to college and 2 percent graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
As he presented them with a blank piece of yellow paper, Howard said they all have a chance to make the decisions that not only will affect their lives, but generations after them.
He spoke of his father, who by the age of 12 took care his own alcoholic father. After spending time with the wrong crowds, his father was sent to jail at 18, where he evaluated his life.
After spending 30 days in jail he joined the Army, had a 20-year military career, got married and had two children. Howard said he is thankful his father changed his path because it also had an effect on him.
“So take your blank piece of paper and write it big, write it well, because not only you, but future generations rely on the story you write,” he said.
Club members and advisers gave words of encouragement that ranged from never giving up to always knowing help is there.
Kip Fuller, Badger Hearts fall 2014 president, said he was introduced to the club by Angelica Flores, vice president, and never realized what foster children endure.
“It’s finally good to see everybody’s face,” Fuller said. “It’s something that I do believe in and care about very much. Don’t set limits on yourself, and there are going to be people out here that will help you, and they want to help you, and Amarillo College is a great environment for that.”
After the ceremony, foster care children were taken to Walt Mart. In previous years, members bought items for the recipients. This year, they had a chance to personally pick items they would need for their first apartment or dorm and make it more their own, said Toby Sexton, current president and social work major.
Each foster youth received a $500 gift card to spend, he said.
Emily Gilbert, co-coordinator of Badger Hearts, said they would provide lists of suggested items to buy and members would be there to help if the foster youth had any questions.
The foster youth also chose art pieces created by club members displayed at the ceremony and bags containing information on AC.