July 26th, 2007

Taking Heart

heartgallery2.jpgLast week, the Heart Gallery — a charity that provides support and helps foster children in New Jersey find new adoptive parents — came to Johnson & Johson headquarters in New Brunswick.

Najlah Feany Hicks — the founder and organizer of the Heart Gallery in New Jersey — explains what they do best:

Why did they come to New Brunswick? Well, it was really all the work of Patty Hickey, who I’ve worked with for the past ten years. Rather than me tell her story, I thought it would be nice if Patty told you about how she got involved in the Heart Gallery in her own words:

“It all started a few years go. On occasion my job responsibilities include working with reporters and photographers, and it was on one of these occasions that I was asked to meet a photographer, Najlah Feany Hicks, who was on site for a photo shoot. Najlah and I talked about many things while she was setting up her equipment including the importance of helping the most vulnerable people in our communities.

A year or two passed by when on November 2nd 2005 I received an email from Najlah explaining that she was the president of the Heart Gallery of New Jersey – a 501 3c non profit dedicated to raising awareness of foster kids who are free for adoption through the use of professional photography. Professional photographers from around the country would donate their time and skills to photograph these foster children in hopes of capturing their spirit and essence gaining them visibility on The Heart Gallery website in hopes of gaining attention for potential adoptive parents.

Najlah was hoping I could put her in touch with someone at Johnson & Johnson who deals with charitable organizations and donations. (She remembered my name from way back when she took those photos of the copy of our Our Credo that is in our main lobby for Fortune Magazine).

The Heart Gallery was putting on a holiday party for the foster children on December 11th in conjunction with DYFS and Najlah was hoping that Johnson & Johnson could help to fill a couple of needs for the children.

One was to provide the kids with 1,000 duffle bags and suitcases. Sadly 95% of all foster children carry they worldly belongings in a black trash bag and move to an average of seven foster homes throughout their lives. Najlah explained that often the children are moved from their biological homes on an emergency basis due to neglect and abuse issues, and don’t always have proper luggage for their clothing and leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

This hit me like a ton of bricks— in some instances these kids have nothing. I felt it was bad enough not to have parents to guide you through life but how scary it must be for these kids to move from place to place never calling one location home.

I felt compelled to spring into action and enlisted my corporate communications colleagues to make it our holiday project. I got the green light from our department head (Ray Jordan) who without a moments hesitation said… “lets do it.” Thanks to a tremendous effort by everyone in the department. We managed to fill 486 duffle bags with clothing, personal care items, games and books for the holiday party at Giant’s stadium with most of us volunteering at the party to help distribute the bags.

I felt a great sense of pride and personal satisfaction working with the different agencies like The Heart Gallery and DYF’s – which together hopefully will make a difference in a child’s life. I recruited all of my family members and close friends to help with the festivities and they too jumped right in helping out and giving so much of themselves in whatever I asked them to do — this surely was one of the most joyful holiday’s I have spent in my life.

Based on this success, during the 2006 Holiday season we expanded our efforts. We sent out donations letters to many companies and supporters and we held a Halloween Bake Sale raising additional donations. As a result, we were able to donate close to 900 duffle bags.

When I heard that the Heart Gallery was launching its newest project, “100 Waiting Children,” I talked with Ray and we decided we could provide the space and facilities to help them with this project. It was a great day. About 36 have been photographed, videotaped and interviewed and soon the Heart Gallery will publish their details on their website.

This cause has made me appreciate many things in my life that I might have taken for granted had I not heard the plight of these children. I could not imagine growing up without the love and support of my family. So in my small way I am trying to help these kids get some belonging to call their own.”

‘nugh said.

3 Responses to “Taking Heart”

  1. Rob Halper says

    Nice posting. It’s great to be able to do something as a department which benefits some of society’s most vulnerable children. Patty deserves a lot of credit.

  2. Christine says

    I work with group home teens and I have been very frustrated and upset due to the trash bag ordeal that the kids have to deal with when moving. Some organizations could provide bags or containers that do not cost much, but donot.

    I am trying to obtain duffel bags or suitcases for the teens who enter and leave the group homes and possibly the domestic violence program that I work also.

    Christine Honea-Takata

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