By P. Erik Meyer ’14
John Wagner’s ’14 life changed several years ago when Child Protective Services placed his two young cousins into his home for foster care.
He watched as these young children were uprooted from their normal lives and needed a form of physical and emotional comfort. He knew he needed to do something, and the Red Suitcase Foundation was born.
“Basically the goal of the foundation is just to make the transition from normal everyday life into a new life of living with a foster family and being involved with CPS,” Wagner said. “It’s just to make that transition a little easier on the kids. We want to do anything we can to make that easier.”
Mr. Chris Agliano helped Wagner form the foundation.
“The goal of the Red Suitcase Foundation is to honor Child Protective Services and really finding opportunities for kids who are in destructive home situations,” Mr. Agliano said.
The foundation is totally student run.
“I had a very small role in this. If you want to talk about leaders John Wagner is one. This is a totally student run enterprise,” Mr. Agliano said. “The role I played was to simply provide a classroom and provide John with the audience to talk about the Red Suitcase Foundation. He totally came up with the idea, all I gave him was the platform and he took that and absolutely succeeded. When I say that the Red Suitcase Foundation is student driven, don’t underestimate that. He has built a website and he went through legalzoom.com to register this as a not for profit charitable organization.”
Wagner founded the foundation after his personal story a few years ago.
“My cousins moved in with me and they were involved with the system; they went through really hard times,” Wagner said. “I saw how difficult it was for them and through that I saw that there was something that I really had to do and really wanted to do. With my youngest cousin, they came to his door and they basically told him that he had 15 minutes to go to your room and pack up your suitcase.”
Wagner has turned his story into a tangible foundation.
“For him the Red Suitcase Foundation is incredibly personal,” Mr. Agliano said. “I think the story behind it keeps it going for him and it makes it tangible for him, it is something that has affected him in his life and with his involvement with CPS, he is able to see how much it effects other lives and how literally something as small as donating toys to a CPS center really heightens the opportunities that these children will have.”
Child Protective Services is a government organization that helps protect children from destructive environments.
“Somebody calls into the CPS hotline and makes a report,” said Laura Giaquinto, chief counsel for the Protective Services Section at the Attorney General’s Office, in a telephone interview. “Then an investigator will go out with the goal of keeping the child at their home, but if the home is not safe, then CPS will remove the child and provide services to the family.”
CPS, a division of the Department of Economic Security, has been Giaquinto’s client since January 2011; she represents the department who serve the children and their families involved with the their agency.
“There are 14,000 children under court jurisdiction,” Giaquinto said. “These children are out of their homes and with someone other than their parents.”
Fifteen hundred children are under supervision by the court in their homes, they are placed with their parents and receive services from CPS.
“It’s incredibly big, community support is very important,” Giaquinto said about The Red Suitcase Foundation. “A program like that is incredible.”
Thus far the organization has had success with drives on campus.
“After the Red Suitcase Foundation drive last year it showed that not only were people interested but that he had a viable charitable organization,” Mr. Agliano said. “Students have asked me this year if we are doing The Red Suitcase Foundation again this year. From here the platform can only spread. He’s had success in five Scripture classes and I think it’s well on its way to being something that we do something we do every year. John wants to reach out to other public schools as well and maybe helping with this foundation.”
Wagner has already gotten the base for foundation off the ground
“There’s a few ideas that I’ve got out involving PCDS and Arcadia, I’m trying to get something started at Saguaro,” Wagner said. “Right now I’m really focused on getting the legal side of a foundation figured out so that I have a legal base and background that I can refer to. Recently over the summer with help of few guys that are helping me through their JJP project we got a website up and running.”
Wagner put together the Red Suitcase Foundation drive in Mr. Agliano’s five sophomore Scripture classes.
He collected more than 750 toys that he then donated to the Child Protective Services.
“Since 2008 with the economic downturn, services provided by the Department of Economic Security have proved to be even more important to families,” Giaquinto said. “The safety network for families not only within CPS but in all DES are even more important at times when families are feeling this economic stress. During this time period, the Department has seen the number of children increase.”
In the end, Wagner said he has one simple goal in mind:
“I want to spread the word and get people in the know of what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t want people to be in the dark about what is going on.”