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Project Suitcase: Life on the move

Got an abandoned suitcase in good condition lying around needing a good home?

Look no further. Florida Gulf Coast University’s Project Suitcase, a non-for-profit group partnering with Footsteps to the Future, is looking for you. The organization was founded by a group of young women at FGCU in a civic engagement class when they were assigned a project that involved giving community service through a charity of their choice. While these young women contacted several charitable organizations, there was something about Footsteps that stood out to them.

“Myself and all the ladies came together, and after hearing about these foster girls living out of trash bags, we wanted to get together and give them suitcases to make their lives a little easier,” said junior biology major Marnie D’Agostino, a group member. “We went to one of the Footsteps meetings, and after talking to Judi, we wanted to do a suitcase giveaway/ Dreamboard project. With the dreamboards, we got some cardboard and got creative with them. The girls loved them — they put everything they wanted on the dreamboards and had a great time doing that,” D’Agostino said.

D’Agostino added that the event was held on Monday, March 10, and almost all of the girls and their mentors were present. She also said the point of hosting the suitcase raffle event was not just about ensuring that these girls had something to carry their things in while traveling from home to home, but something much more significant than that.

“We wanted to do this because we believe having a dream is important, and we wanted to give these girls something to remind them of their dreams daily. The suitcases not only serve for practical day-to-day use when these girls move between houses but reminds them of all that they are capable of achieving in their lives,” D’Agostino said.

Group member Julia Berch, a junior communications major, said that the things people easily take for granted — such as the ability to own a suitcase — the Footsteps girls cherish.

“The message behind Project Suitcase is, in the foster system, kids are constantly moving place to place, and they put all of their belongings into trash bags. A lot of us take for granted that we have things like suitcases. All these girls have are trash bags, and the suitcases make them feel better about themselves.

“We take for granted the privilege of being able to move these things more conveniently when a lot of these girls do not have that,” Berch stated. “The reason why we wanted to do Project Suitcase is because people have suitcases lying around the house that they do not even use, and these suitcases are better off benefiting others through Project Suitcase,” she said.

Berch also said that these suitcases symbolize a brighter future for the girls.

“What these suitcases symbolize to these girls is that they are moving on to bigger and better things in life,” said Berch.

Group member Courtney Caligiuri, a junior psychology major, said that time and suitability was the whole reason why Project Suitcase happened. She also said that she and her group wanted to do a project that was a bit more original than usual.

“We wanted to pick an organization that no one has really heard of or done anything with yet. We emailed a lot of people, and Footsteps were the first ones that got back to us, and they just suited us,” Caligiuri said. “The message behind Project Suitcase was that the girls go from home to home using trash bags and that they are worth something better than that,” she said.

Caligiuri also said that the intention of these suitcases portrayed to these girls what Footsteps represents.

“I think these suitcases showed the girls that they are loved and cared about, and that is what Footsteps is all about,” Caligiuri said.

Despite all of the hard work and dedication these young women have put into Project Suitcase, none of it would be possible without Judi Woods. Woods is the director of Footsteps and largely oversees all of the organization’s community events, and she liked what she saw when the group contacted her.

“The underlying message behind Project Suitcase was to help each young woman use her creative side to express herself and her dream. What I said to the girls was that you have to have a dream to make a dream come true. It gave the girls a chance to use their creative side to express their voices and make them realize that they can have a dream and that their dreams can come true. These young women were really enthusiastic about things, and I really liked their attitude as well. The one word in which I would describe these women as is ‘willing’, because they were willing to do anything to help out these girls. They had expressed that they did not want to make this a one-time deal. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘It takes a village to build a child,’ and that is what we believe also, and these women from FGCU wanted to be a part of that,” Woods argued.

Woods also says that it is the positive attitude of this group that is making her want them to stay around for a while.

“I like to display positive women in front of our girls, and we are doing that by having our FGCU girls come to help,” she said. “Albert Schweitzer once said, ‘The purpose of human life is to serve.’ If people help other people, it gives them the opportunity to help others and in turn feel better about themselves,” Woods said.

Women who wish to get involved with Footsteps to the Future can do so by going to the organization’s website, www.footstepstothefuture. org, or contacting Judi Woods directly at 239-281-7378.

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