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A Mom Helps Foster Families During Hectic Back-to-School Season

Seven smiling school kids

Mel Jurgens is the mother of three daughters.

Mel and her husband, Wally, formally adopted the girls in 2006 and 2008. The girls first came to the Jurgens home as children in Iowa’s foster care program.

“First and foremost, I’m a mom,” Mel says.

She’s also Manager for Scoring Solutions and Proposals for Pearson.

And, earlier this fall, Mel found a way to combine her work at Pearson—with her experience parenting three children.

“They are faced with tough questions,” she says. “Where did that foster child go to school in the past? And will they be able to attend that same school?”

A Hectic Back-To-School Season

“Every parent knows how hectic the back-to-school season can be,” Mel says.

“Foster families have additional challenges,” she says. “Often parents don’t have a lot of advance notice when a child arrives just before school starts.”

“Or, they are faced with tough questions,” she says. “Where did that foster child go to school in the past? And will they be able to attend that same school?”

“So much of any routine these kids might have had is disrupted when they are placed in foster care,” Mel says. “One of the most important things a foster family can do is to establish as much normalcy and routine as possible, as soon as they can.”

In the end, Mel, her colleagues, and people from other area businesses donated enough resources to help more than 300 local foster children with back-to-school needs.

Easing the Burden

So Mel approached her colleagues at Pearson’s facility in Iowa with an idea.

“I thought we could collect money, school clothes, and supplies for these foster families,” Mel says.

“I raised the idea to local management,” she says. “And they let me run with it.”

It was the first time she’d ever coordinated such an effort.

In the end, Mel, her colleagues, and people from other area businesses donated enough resources to help more than 300 local foster children with back-to-school needs.

“Foster children may have to attend new schools where they don’t know anyone, and they also may have used school supplies. … To see the faces of these parents and kids light up … was something I’ll never forget.”

Treasures in the ‘Clothing Closet’

The donations went to a local non-profit called Families Helping Families of Iowa (FHF).

The organization provides “access to basic need items and resources for children in foster care throughout the state of Iowa.”

FHF held a back-to-school rally to distribute these resources—and Mel volunteered in the “clothing closet” on the day resources were to be distributed.

“It’s where they’ve got racks and racks of donated or ‘gently used’ clothes,” she says. “And I helped families find the right sizes for their children.”

Mel also directed families to new backpacks, full of pencils, pens, folders, and markers.

“Foster children may have to attend new schools where they don’t know anyone, and they also may have used school supplies,” Mel says. “To see the faces of these parents and kids light up when they opened their own brand-new backpacks was something I’ll never forget.”

Helping Learners

“There’s this stigma about foster children,” Mel says. “They’re not in the foster program because of anything they’ve done. These are good kids.”

“Pearson is in the business of education,” says says. “Everything we do centers on the learner—and how can a child learn when they feel out of place or if their school supplies are old and broken?”

“It seemed right for us to help get these kids off to school on the right foot, even in small ways,” Mel says.

“Believe me—for these families—it’s huge.”