Giving Voice to Foster Children
Chaya Milchtein, 25
Vehicle: 2019 Impreza
Volunteering: Kids Matter CASA, an organization that advocates for foster children in Milwaukee County Children’s Court
“Court Appointed Special Advocates are volunteers who go through intensive training and are appointed by the court to advocate for the best interest of a child in foster care. I attend court hearings, meet regularly with each child, meet biological and foster parents, and speak with teachers, doctors and therapists to get a full understanding of the child’s life. I then report to the court my findings and fact-based suggestions.
“Social workers and courts are overburdened and lack the time to get a good picture of a child’s life and needs. CASAs only take a very small number of cases at a time, one to two, to make sure they can give the best attention to the child in care.
“I was a foster kid who always had a big voice and could stand up for myself, but not every foster kid can do that or should have to do that. You should just have somebody in your corner to hold everyone accountable.
“When you truly understand what someone has been through, to help others experiencing that situation is deeply meaningful. I’ve been given significant privilege and benefits over the course of my life that I try every single day to pay forward.
“I also run a blog, Mechanic Shop Femme. I grew up to love Subaru because of my foster mom, who I believe is on her fifth one. I was working in an auto shop and someone suggested I write a blog because people were already contacting me and asking for car info.
“I offer auto education on Facebook at sliding scale rates and provide free spots to people who are disabled, low income, of color and/or queer.”
Caring for Homeless Women
Asha Mashaka-Zienkiewicz, 46
Vehicle: 2018 Crosstrek
Volunteering: Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), a nonprofit organization assisting homeless and formerly homeless women
“Downtown Women’s Center provides meals, clean clothing, showers, a career center for crafting resumes, referrals to housing and other services, and a community of caring women who are there to listen, talk and support each other.
“I’m an inaugural member of the center’s Leadership Council, a panel of women who are committed to helping end women’s homelessness in Los Angeles. In 2019, the Leadership Council raised over $100,000 and donated over 400 volunteer hours to DWC.
“I pick up donations in my Crosstrek and drive them to the center. This is my second Subaru – the first one was a WRX Hatchback. For our large gala fundraiser, we have a lot of stuff to lug around so the back of the Crosstrek comes in handy.
“Because of the pandemic, we were not able to hold our gala this year so we have done multiple fundraising events throughout the year. Since March, we’ve raised over $37,000 to help ensure women experiencing homelessness are receiving meals during the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about the homeless. Every woman’s situation is extraordinarily different with different needs. I’m blown away by all the things these women have gone through and that they’re still here and making it. They’re phenomenal.”
Feeding the Hungry
Adolph Ruegamer, 80
Union, New Jersey
Vehicle: 2014 Outback
Volunteering: Samaritan Ministry, a group of parishioners from St. Michael Catholic Church that provides basic needs to those who are struggling
“I’ve been delivering sandwiches made by the Samaritan Ministry to St. Joseph Social Service Center’s soup kitchen in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for 15 years. I also collect food for the American Rescue in Newark, St. Mary of the Assumption in Elizabeth and Holy Spirit Church in Union. I carry 250 to 500 sandwiches on every trip. That’s why I have the Outback, because when I put the seats down, there’s enough space in the back to carry all the sandwiches.
“Growing up on a farm in Germany, we had plenty of food. But I saw people begging for vegetables, potatoes, whatever they could get. I believe all deserve to eat. Every week, 52 weeks a year, the sandwich program for St. Joe’s keeps going. Right now, especially, we need help from communities that are in good shape. We have a lot of people in Union County willing to open up their doors and give people pizzas, sandwiches and anything else.
“I was a fireman in Cranford, New Jersey, for 25 years – 20 years as a job and 5½ years as a volunteer. I was also a song leader for the Church of the Assumption for 27 years. The friendships I’ve developed over the years, you cannot put a price tag on. You meet so many people volunteering who are always there if you need them.”
Working Magic for Kids in the Hospital
Mike Walton, 51, and Eric Steigerwald, 35
Chicago, Illinois, and Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Vehicles: 2006 Forester and 2011 Outback
Volunteering: Open Heart MagicTM (OHM), a nonprofit organization Walton founded in 2004. OHM sends magicians to kids’ hospital rooms to do bedside magic.
Walton: “It started with me volunteering to help kids by doing close-up magic in hospitals. I knew I was onto something when parents would follow me out of the room, shake my hand and say, ‘That’s the first time my child has smiled or laughed since they’ve been here.’”
Steigerwald: “I wasn’t a magician before I started with Open Heart Magic. They’re always looking for passionate people who are willing to learn.”
Walton: “Our 170 volunteers see 12,000 kids per year at 12 hospitals in Chicago, two in Cleveland and one in Ann Arbor.”
Steigerwald: “Here in Cleveland, I have a basement full of magic supplies, which I deliver to the volunteers. It’s great to have my Outback to do that.”
Walton: “We also teach kids magic. We make them say a magician’s code. They have this secret power when we leave.”
Steigerwald: “We’re able to give this sense of normalcy and childhood back to the kids. Sometimes parents start to see the medical situation rather than their child. We help the kid focus on being a kid again and help parents see their kid again.”
Walton: “We had to pause this summer, for safety reasons. We have one program back up and running, at Rush Children’s Hospital in Chicago. We make sure the safety process is bulletproof. When that happens, everyone can enjoy the benefit from the magic even more.”
Saving At-Risk Pups
Rosa Larios, 29, and Peggy Kennedy, 47
Los Angeles, California
Vehicles: 2018 Impreza and 2015 Outback
Volunteering: Angel City Pit Bulls, a nonprofit rescue organization dedicated to creating a better future for pit bull dogs in Los Angeles
Larios: “There’s a stigma against pits, so we want to educate the community that they’re loving animals and give them the opportunity to find their forever homes. We have about 60 or so dogs in our program, with the majority in foster homes. These dogs are like little hippos that just want to be loved and hugged.”
Kennedy: “We’re a small volunteer organization, but we provide ongoing support. Our alumni coordinators can problem-solve with people or refer a trainer. Our focus has shifted to more challenging dogs with medical issues who need a little bit more time to work on behavioral issues.”
Kennedy: “My first Subaru was an Impreza. I bought it in 2004 because I was about to drive across the country to do an internship at an animal sanctuary. I immediately started transporting animals in it. Now, my Outback has plenty of room for transporting fosters.
“I have always loved animals, but one dog in particular that threw me into volunteering for Angel City was a pit who had medical issues. He was an extroverted dog who just had this strut, and everyone wanted to say hi to him. My husband and I ended up adopting him and training him to become a therapy dog.”
Larios: “I fostered a puppy and ended up keeping her. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be as composed as I am right now during COVID. Having a pet – having that unconditional love – is the most amazing feeling, and I want other people to experience that too.”