This semester, the Department of Behavioral and Community Health’s HLTH 140: Introduction to Personal and Community Health class, taught by Dr. James Butler, is engaging in a service learning project aimed at improving outcomes for children in the foster care system.  The project is being completed in conjunction with Comfort Cases, a local non-profit organization.  Comfort Cases provides essentials (e.g., blankets, pajamas, toiletries, journals, pens/pencils, etc.) to thousands of children in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia foster care systems.  Each child receives one small suitcase or backpack (the “comfort case”) filled with these items.  Comfort Cases’ goal is to end the demoralization associated with foster care children carrying their belongings in a trash bag when transitioning from home to home.

The 191 undergraduate students enrolled in HLTH 140 this semester will be responsible for writing an inspirational letter, donating five essential items, and packing one comfort case for a teen recipient during a class-wide packing party that will occur on Thursday April 20, 2017.  HLTH 140 is the first course in our department to integrate a service-learning project into a campus-wide course that includes students representing up to 30 University of Maryland majors.

The project is already having an impact on students.  Kylie Martin, a current student enrolled in HLTH 140, is making the project a family and community affair.  Ms. Martin’s grandparents were foster parents.  Ms. Martin writes: 

“Like Mr. Scheer, they (Ms. Martin’s grandparents) do not address themselves as foster parents, but as parents. She told me that every child that entered their home always received new clothes, toys, personal care items, as well as a duffle bag to keep. She never believed in allowing any child go without, whether he or she be a foster child, biological child, or even a neighbor in need.” 

Ms. Martin’s grandparents have decided to contribute with the help of their church.  Together, they will be collecting items needed for the comfort cases.    Ms. Martin, reflecting on this project expressed to Dr. Butler:

 “I want to thank you so much for presenting us with this opportunity to give back and become more involved in the community. I feel as though I was placed in your class for a specific reason, not because I "had" to take the course but because I love helping people.”

For more information about the Comfort Cases organization, visit their website and view the video below.