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The Cypress branch, which is located in Charbonneau, raises funds to help children, parents

COURTESY PHOTO - Margie Wiesenthal, Diann Harland, Megan Bos and Maureen Larsen show the check the Cypress Branch raised for Boys & Girls Aid in 2018-19.

During a recent meeting at Charbonneau Country Club, members of the Boys & Girls Aid's Cypress branch discussed the logistics of fundraising — where to purchase crab for its upcoming dinner and auction and how a recent donation from the Rotary Club of Wilsonville will be used, for example.

Although fundraising is the branch's primary function, the women in the organization make a point to remember the core values that have spurred their efforts — their belief that children in foster care deserve a better life than they often are given.

"We're older ladies who are moms and have raised our children and adopted children and still feel strongly about doing whatever we can for the kids that don't have a good childhood," said Wilsonville resident and member Maureen Larsen.

The Charbonneau-based branch is an outgrowth of the Boys & Girls Aid nonprofit organization based in Portland, which was founded in 1990 and has over 90 members, including many Wilsonville residents. The Cypress branch contributed over $100,000 to the organization during the 2018-19 school year.

The money goes toward funding multiple housing facilities for foster care children, recruiting and supporting foster care parents, preparing children for permanent living situations and transitional services for people exiting the foster care system, among other things.

Megan Bos, the assistant director of development at Boys & Girls Aid, said the organization also has branches in McMinnville and Beaverton and has been impressed by the Cypress branch's willingness to provide support at every turn.

"The first thing that struck me was their willingness to jump in and help out whenever they can," Bos said. "There's never too big of an ask. They go above and beyond."

Though some of the members are foster parents, Wilsonville resident Zoe Niklas was the lone person at the meeting who navigated the foster care system as a child.

Niklas actually wrote and starred in a play that was performed by WilsonvilleSTAGE about her harrowing experience being raised in an abusive household. She was recruited to join after the performance.

According to many reports, the foster care system has been plagued by issues such as volunteer turnover, not enough willing parents and kids moving from home to home.

"There are so many kids that fall through the cracks," Niklas said. "Our kids need help."

One of the most meaningful experiences Niklas has had while volunteering for Boys & Girls Aid was visiting the Seneca facility, which houses females over the age of 12. She said the girls were reticent to talk to her until she opened up about her own story.

"They were looking at me skeptically, and then I told my story and their whole body language opened up," Niklas said. "It changed their whole attitude."

Niklas lived in a youth center when she was younger, appreciated the safety it provided, and is happy that the Boys & Girls Aid centers provide current foster care children similar comfort.

"That means the world to me," she said.

Margaret Wiesenthal, the Boys & Girls Aid Cypress Branch co-president, mentioned another housing program for kids ages 4 to 10 that have dealt with extremely traumatic circumstances.

"Some of the kids have been so abused, the only thing they know to do is act out," she said. "Boys & Girls Aid sticks with them."

has Bos said the transitional program, where teenage foster kids learn how to perform adult tasks like managing money and getting a job, also has been beneficial.

"For the majority, it's resulting in permanency," Bos said. "They're making their way."

With the help of the $1,500 Rotary donation, the organization is offering sports bags for boys in the foster care system this holiday season and will offer baskets for girls that include makeup, journals, toys and other gifts around Easter.

Wiesenthal said the branch has grown since she joined in 2010. And she said it raised over $70,000 just at the crab and rib dinner and auction last year. That event will take place again in March.

"We are drawing in more people who don't live in Charbonneau and making more money," Wiesenthal said.

Wiesenthal said serving foster care children and parents can be expensive, which makes raising money particularly important.

"It costs a lot of money to do this the right way," she said.

For more information on Boys & Girls Aid, visit www.boysandgirlsaid.org.


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