JOLIET – Kristin Violante lives in Willow Springs, but when a friend from high school posted a request on Facebook, Violante was in.
Violante’s friend, Janet Palkon of Joliet, was collecting suitcases and backpacks, which she was filling with personal care supplies and small games for kids entering the foster care system.
Palkon, who became a foster parent in 2013, along with her husband, Bob Palkon, said one of her former teen foster children initially suggested the idea. Janet calls her endeavor Project Me.
“This just struck a chord with me,” Violante said. “As a parent who wants nothing but the best for her kids, it broke my heart that kids were being taken out of their homes with a little plastic bag of stuff.”
On Sunday, Janet is hosting a Project Me-Study Buddy Workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. at American Legion Post 1080. At the event, Janet will distribute free backpacks of school supplies to foster children and kids in the community who need them.
Janet is still accepting donations of additional school supplies, and encourages community members to bring them to the event. She wants to ensure any child who needs supplies gets them.
“I have enough backpacks and I want to fill them,” she said. “I don’t want to put in one pencil and one folder. I want to make it pretty much what they need for the year.”
So far, 35 foster children are preregistered for the event, Janet said, but any child between the ages of 2 and 15 can participate in the Study Buddy workshop for $15.
Kids will create their Study Buddies (a stuffed animal), write their goals for the upcoming school year and tuck it inside the critter.
Proceeds from the workshop help purchase more supplies for foster children. There are plenty of Study Buddy supplies available for any child wishing to make one, Janet said, thanks to her home-based business.
“I have a birthday party business that helps buy more supplies for Project Me,” Janet said. “It’s like ‘Build a Bear’ on wheels. We come to the house and do the birthday party.”
But Janet’s birthday party business is more than a way to fund Project Me, and it’s more than the Study Buddy program. Like Project Me, the business has community outreach elements.
“We started two or three years ago when I read in The Herald-News about a little boy with a heart ailment who lost his stuffed animal,” Janet said.
Janet said after she contacted the family, Bob showed up dressed as a monkey and brought an animal for the boy to make and stuff. She has also hosted stuffed animal workshops at day camps and nursing homes, Janet said. Whenever she hears of someone in need, Janet delivers a stuffed animal.
Jaime Halteman of Romeoville said she was a vendor at a Project Me event. When she met Janet and her foster children, Halteman said Janet’s vision “tugged at her heart.”
Since then, Halteman has bought and collected school supplies and worked registration at events. She said she admires Janet and Bob’s commitment to foster children.
“It’s made me see outside my own little world,” Halteman said.
During the holiday season, Janet collects and delivers gifts to foster children. At Easter, Joliet-area kids in need receive a visit from the Easter bunny. This past year, Bob said he and Janet visited 104 homes. They each wore a costume and split the visits.
One stop was especially memorable for Bob.
“I hopped around the backyard chasing a live bunny for the kids,” Bob said.
Bob, who will appear in the monkey suit at the Project Me event, said some kids “get it” and realize he’s a person in a suit. But others are enthralled and can’t wait to share news of their lives.
He likes bringing happiness to kids, especially kids in foster care and kids fighting serious illnesses or challenges.
“That translates into my happiness, as well,” Bob said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Project Me-Study Buddy Workshop
WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 7
WHERE: American Legion Post 1080, 2625 Ingalls Ave., Joliet
ETC: Free school supplies and backpacks for foster kids and kids in need, $13 Study Buddy Workshop for any child ages 2 to 15. Donations of additional school supplies accepted at the event.
CALL: 815 531-5875