Children at The Baby Fold will be feeling the love this Valentine’s Day thanks to students in Illinois State University’s TRIO Student Support Services Program (TRIO/SSS). On February 12, 15 students decorated and filled 100 Valentine’s gift bags to be distributed to children at The Baby Fold on Valentine’s Day.
This is the fourth year that TRIO/SSS has organized this service project. For over a decade, TRIO/SSS students have decorated and stuffed Halloween bags for children at The Baby Fold. According to Tamekia Bailey, interim project coordinator for TRIO/SSS at University College, the Valentine’s project was added as an additional service opportunity four years ago as a way to illustrate love and compassion to local children.
“Valentine’s Day is centered around love, and while this is inherently not a bad thing, it can be a trigger for those who may not feel loved or do not have love expressed to them as often as others,” Bailey said. “This service project was created to let children know that they are loved and valued by their community.”
The TRIO/SSS students decorated each paper bag by hand and added Valentine notes and wishes. The bags were then filled with candy, fruit snacks, Valentine’s pencils, and crackers. They will be distributed by staff at The Baby Fold to children who attend school or are in foster care, adoptive care, or other programs at the organization. All supplies were sponsored by TRIO/SSS and University College.
Participating in the service project was an obvious decision for several participants. Tabitha Manning, a senior majoring in public relations, said that she tries to do as much service work as she can.
“There are people way less fortunate than me, and I hope it never happens, but if I came down on my luck, then I’d want someone to do something even as little as tell me it’s ok and that they care,” Manning said. “That’s essentially what these Valentine’s Day cards are.”
Christian Johnson, a senior majoring in history-social sciences secondary education, participated as a way to give back and to help make the Valentine’s Day holiday special for someone else.
“What makes giving back even more important on this holiday is the celebration of love,” Johnson said. “And that is exactly what volunteering is about—serving others with love.”
The Valentine’s Day gift bags always bring a smile to the faces of the children who receive them, and some children take the treats home to share with their siblings, according to Sam Guillory, executive assistant and project manager for development and public relations at The Baby Fold.
“The gift demonstrates unconditional love for our children,” Guillory said. “The fact that these ISU students don’t even know our kids but still CARE about them!”
Alpha Psi Lambda National at Illinois State also provided treats and Valentine’s Day cards for the children at The Baby Fold. Alpha Psi Lambda and TRIO/SSS were the only organizations to donate Valentines to the organization this year.
TRIO/SSS is a student-oriented program that provides services to individuals who are traditionally underrepresented in post-secondary education. Participants are either first-generation college students, have financial need, or have a documented disability.
According to Bailey, community service work is important to the TRIO/SSS program because it helps to enhance the students’ education experience at Illinois State while it helps to build character. “It also helps to change the current narrative around first generation and low income students—it demonstrates that while these students have their own set of challenges, they are willing to help and illustrate to others that no matter what struggles you may have, you are still an asset to your community.”
After transferring to Illinois State, Tyreesha Owens, a senior majoring in accounting, said she felt very alone until she joined the TRIO/SSS program. Now she sees her fellow participants as her local family, offering her a foundation that provides strength, guidance, and an ease of belonging.
Owens took part in the Valentine’s Day service project as a way to give back to the community. “I know what it feels like to be alone in a world full of people,” she said, “and if I can help even one person feel like they have more to see or live for, feel loved or feel like they belong to something bigger, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so.”
To learn more about the TRIO Student Support Services Program, visit the University College website.
If you are interested in donating to or volunteering at The Baby Fold, visit their website for more information.