Staffers at HALOS have heard many stories about the unmet needs of neglected children who are funneled through social service agencies.
Stories about babies who have been abandoned and left without a crib to sleep in, abused grade-school children who have longed for a single present on their birthday, and teenagers with nowhere to go and with nothing, not even a set of clean underwear. The stories are all too familiar.
HALOS, or Helping and Lending Outreach Support, helps solve some of those problems for foster children. It helps more than 2,000 Charleston kids a year, and the North Charleston-based nonprofit is planning to help even more kids as it expands its reach into Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
Executive Director Kim Clifton is at the helm of the project and says the expansion is well under way, but HALOS still is going to need more support from the community.
HALOS began in 1997 from an outreach headed by Medical University of South Carolina pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Eve Spratt, who believed there was a way for the community to come together to meet the ancillary needs of children through the social service departments.
What she saw through her practice, according to Clifton, were children being made safe by the time they reached DSS or another agency, but who still were missing things that improved their quality of life, such as a simple birthday celebration.
Today, the group offers programs that give children special opportunities every kid should be able to have during their childhood, which include celebrating birthdays, going to summer camp and getting gifts during the holidays and supplies for a new school year.
Since August 2005, the HALOS staff has been operating out of the Charleston County DSS offices on Rivers Avenue.
"That really put us in a different direction because we started to really respond to the immediate need requests from DSS caseworkers," Clifton said.
HALOS doesn't take requests from the public or from families but works with DSS to find out what the needs are. Then by building community partnerships with businesses, churches, other organizations and individuals, HALOS is able to fulfill each of the children's needs.
"We publicize the needs of children involved with DSS to this network of community partners, and we can reach, even though we're a small organization, thousands of people in the community," Clifton said.
Josh Pernick, HALOS outreach coordinator, has been organizing the movement in Dorchester as well as in Berkeley.
In Dorchester, the group already has attained five or six committed partners and about 15 more potential ones since they started expanding into the tri-county three months ago, Pernick said.
And they've met every request for the county that includes collecting and distributing several beds, which are among the most needed items. Beds and mattresses have helped foster parents and caregivers who are relatives be able to provide room for siblings, for example, so they don't have to be separated.
"The idea behind HALOS is a lot of these things, they're items that people have just in their basement -- cribs, bunk beds, twin beds -- just collecting dust," Pernick said. "It's a matter of connecting those people who have those things and don't know what to do with them with those needs in the community."
In Berkeley, however, Pernick said there hasn't been as much luck yet gaining community partners, for whatever reason. Being a partner involves promoting, participating in and publicizing HALOS' ongoing programs and campaigns.
From Travis Lincoln's standpoint, HALOS already has made a huge difference. He's the foster care supervisor for Dorchester County Department of Social Services.
"It's a weight lifted off our shoulders," Lincoln said. "With HALOS, now we don't have to worry because there's other people also acting and working for the benefit of the children."
How to help
HALOS, an organization working to improve the lives of abused and neglected children in Charleston County, is expanding into Dorchester and Berkeley.
The group's greatest needs include:
New car seats.
Gently used beds (twins, fulls) in good condition.
Wal-Mart gift cards for groceries and holiday gifts for teens.
To become a HALOS partner or to donate, contact Josh Pernick at email@example.com or 953-3085.
Reach Almar Flotildes at 937-5719.