NONPROFIT GIVING ARIZONA FOSTER CHILDREN HOPE
"When I was about 6 months, my mom passed away and my dad abandoned me for his other family," Jessica Lopez said. "My grandma decided to adopt me because that was my only family member that could. Well, she was older and couldn't take a newborn so my uncle figured let me take care of her and that didn't work out."
Lopez spent her younger years living between family members, neighbors and a group home in Mesa, Arizona.
"It was hard," Lopez said. "I was 8 years old. I had older girls kind of bullying me, telling me to do this and do that.
"I was hateful. I did not want to be there," she continued.
Lopez was eventually reunited with her uncle and aunt when she was 15 years old.
"Well, when I got home, me and my aunt, I call them Mom and Dad, I would get close and pull back because it was something I wasn't use to, used to having that relationship," Lopez said.
Now at 18, Lopez is finally realizing that her family is not going anywhere.
"I always had that mentality, like once 18, peace out and don't talk to me and that never happened," Lopez said.
But Lopez doesn't just have one family, she has two.
"When I was 9 to 10, Kelli actually came out to Sunshine Acres and she was the arts and crafts teacher at the school I was going to there," Lopez said. "I had invited Kelli back to our dorm to go check it out and stuff and from that point on she was my mentor."
Kelli Freeman is the co-founder of Hope & A Future, a nonprofit organization giving abused and neglected children in the Arizona foster care system tools to make it in the real world.
"So we started the organization with the intent of just having the teenage camp and Christmas party and so we launched the organization and we had that within nine months," Freeman said. "It was actually our five-year goal and since then we now launched and have eight programs."
This includes a girls Teen Reach Adventure Camp (TRAC) in Payson with a very special addition added into the mix.
"The Arizona Princess Program is part of the camp," Freeman said. "We do that the first day to break down barriers and walls with the girls.
"When the kids get here, they don't trust us. We're just a lot of crazy people yelling for them as they get off the bus," Freeman continued.
"We want to wow them," she said. "We want them to know they're valued and loved."
With the help of more than a 100 volunteers, the girls get a chance to be transformed into a modern-day princess.
"We have Dolce Salon and Spa and they're doing all the hair at one station," Freeman said. "We have them doing makeup in a different area and then we have a station with over 1,000 dresses and Dolce does dress drives throughout the year."
The girls even get a chance to pick out accessories and shoes. This is the first time some of them have ever been pampered.
"I always tell my girls when I'm trying to recruit people, once you go, you will understand how amazing it is," said Brody Valerio, salon director at Dolce Salon & Spa. "It's just as simple as helping them pick out a dress, maybe [some] have never had that before, so it's pretty awesome."
Lopez is getting a chance to see what it's like on the other side. Instead of being a camper, she's one of the staff members.
"These kids have this day to be, first, treated as God's daughters," Lopez said. "Some of these kids have never had anything like this. So this a big night for them."
A red carpet event with dinner and dancing.
"For a lot of these girls, it's the first time they're in an environment that's safe," Freeman said. "[A place] where they're able to talk about issues that they have challenges with and there is other people that have experienced it as well."
The Arizona Princess Program can be life-changing and Freeman would like to see it expand.
"We want to get a fifth wheeler," Freeman said. "I also want to have a shop where the girls can come in when they need to buy dresses for prom or anything like that."
A reality than can happen with the help of sponsors, donors and volunteers.
"It's extremely powerful and I think that if there would have been one person that had done something like this for me in one day, that would have made an impact in my life," Freeman said. "I know that for sure."
Hope & A Future is a qualifying charitable organization for Arizona's Charitable Tax Credit. Married couples can lower their taxes by up to $800 and singles by $400 by donating to Hope & A Future.
Help a foster child today by visiting azhope.com and please Share the Hope by passing this message along to your family and friends.