Couple working to ease baggage woes of foster children

Saturday, March 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AGRA, Okla. (AP) _ Jerry and Nancy Durbin lug around a lot of extra baggage. Their baggage, however, helps ease the burdens of children who have enough baggage of their own.

The Durbins are the founders of Luggage for Foster Children in Oklahoma, a program that provides tote bags and makeup cases for foster children who often move from home to home, carrying many of their possessions with them in trash bags.

``When I worked for child welfare, the kids always came in with a trash bag,'' Nancy Durbin said. ``They never had a tote bag.''

The Durbins tired of hearing foster children dubbed as ``trash bag kids'' and considered starting a luggage program after hearing about a similar program in Indiana. They only hesitated to begin the program because of a lack of funds.

Their minds were made up three years ago, however, after seeing a girl dragging a trash bag behind her as she was moving to a foster home.

She was crying and, as she was dragging a trash bag behind her, it broke, scattering her things on the ground, Durbin said. The couple went straight home and started plans for the program.

``We don't know whether she got a bag or not,'' said Durbin.

That girl may not have received a bag, but thousands of other children in Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties have.

Every month, the Durbins try to provide the Department of Human Service offices in both counties with about 40 or 50 bags. The bags come in all shapes and sizes, and each is brand-new and hand-selected.

Makeup bags and more feminine-looking bags are selected for girls, and boys get bags suited for them. The children select the bags themselves when they need one, and they are allowed as many as they want.

``If they come back through the system, and they need another bag, then we give them a bag,'' Durbin said. ``We have a much bigger turnover in Pottawatomie County. We can't hardly keep up with them.''

Nancy Durbin said she often finds bags on sale, but she never considers giving a used bag to a foster child.

``These children already have enough trouble in their lives,'' Durbin said.

``It's a matter of when you give a kid a used bag, it's a throwaway bag, and it's like telling that kid that they are a throwaway, too. When these children go into a home, that first impression is very important.''

The Durbins always shop for the bags themselves, often spending up to $200 a month of their own money. They receive some financial support from the Tryon First Assembly of God Church and the Chandler Rotary Club, but the funds often do not cover the expense of the program.

They said they hope to receive added financial support in the future. Durbin plans to introduce the program to state legislators in hopes of receiving state funding.

``We'd like to have it in all 77 counties,'' he said.

The Durbins know firsthand about working with foster children. They have been foster parents for two special needs children for 13 years. They also took care of three foster children before taking the special needs children into their home on a permanent basis.

Durbin is a member of the Child Welfare Review Board, the Foster Care Association of Oklahoma, the Lincoln and Pottawatomie County Parent Adjudication Review Board, the Promoting Safe and Stable Families organization and the Developmental Disabilities Services Division.

``So the luggage program is just an extension of everything we do and try to advocate for children,'' he said.