RALEIGH, N.C.

North Carolina First Lady Kristin Cooper commended North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions (DWS) employees today for leading a statewide drive to benefit young people in North Carolina’s out-of-home care system. Raleigh-based DWS staff launched the Luggage of Hope service project to provide luggage and toiletries to ease transitions for children in foster care.

First Lady Kristin Cooper is using her platform to improve the well-being of children in North Carolina by focusing on preventing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences. Cooper has served as a guardian ad litem for children in Wake County since 2003, using her legal training to represent foster children in court. At the NCWorks Training Center on Chaponoke Road in Raleigh, the First Lady addressed the state employees who initiated Luggage of Hope and recognized the service efforts of DWS workers across North Carolina.

“I want to thank the dedicated professionals at the Division of Workforce Solutions and the entire NCWorks team for organizing this community service effort,” Kristin Cooper said. “DWS staff support the state through their everyday work, and they went above and beyond to make this service project a success. By providing these suitcases and essential items, Luggage of Hope will offer some comfort and convenience to foster children facing challenging transitions.”

After learning that young people sometimes must pack their belongings in trash bags when entering or transitioning within the out-of-home care system, DWS employees joined forces to collect much-needed luggage that county social service agencies sometimes struggle to supply. DWS partnered with Strong Able Youth Speaking Out (SaySo), a Durham-based statewide nonprofit directed by youth currently or formerly in North Carolina’s substitute care system.

“What started with a small committee at the central office grew into something much bigger,” said Danny Giddens, Assistant Secretary of Workforce Solutions. “The project became a huge success thanks to the involvement of our regional leaders and NCWorks Career Centers across the state, who have connected with local SaySo chapters. I join the First Lady in thanking everyone throughout the workforce system for their support of this worthy cause.”

In addition to NCWorks Career Centers across the state, several partnering Workforce Development Boards supported the effort and received an inpour of donations from their local communities. Luggage of Hope surpassed the original goal of collecting 72 pieces of luggage with around 230 donated statewide, the majority of which were filled with toiletry items. 

The NCWorks Career Center in Battleboro collected more suitcases and toiletries than almost any other location. Even while helping job seekers and employers in an area with the state’s highest unemployment rate, employees at the center were dedicated to the service project. 

“As soon as we heard about the Luggage of Hope project, our team pulled together to provide suitable luggage and toiletries,” said Diane Thomas, the Career Center manager. “We had collected over 12 luggage and overnight bags within the first few weeks. This program touched the hearts of our team. Some have had first-hand interaction with foster children in our area. We cannot think of a better way to serve our community than giving a child a smile.”

Workforce Development Boards, NCWorks Career Centers and other DWS staff collected luggage and toilet items by Prosperity Zones from May 14 to June 30, 2018. Volunteers from local SaySo chapters will pick up the items and distribute them within each Prosperity Zone. 

SaySo’s mission is to “work to improve the substitute care by educating the community, speaking out about needed changes and providing support to youth who are or have been in substitute care.” Since the organization’s founding in 1998, youth-driven advocacy has been at the core of SaySo’s activities. To contribute to non-profit SaySo, visit http://www.saysoinc.org/donate

The N.C. Department of Commerce’s Division of Workforce Solutions administers a statewide system of workforce programs that prepare North Carolina’s citizens for employment. For more information about how DWS helps North Carolinians find jobs, visit http://www.nccommerce.com/workforce

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