Second annual “Sweet Dreams” drive scheduled for Dec. 12 at Cedar Creek Mall
FAYETTE, Iowa (Nov. 9, 2009) – Upper Iowa University-Wausau student Gina Mattheisen from Marshfield, WI will hold her second annual drive for “Sweet Dreams” care packages at the Cedar Creek Mall in Wausau, WI on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Mattheisen’s “Sweet Dreams” program was put into place last year to provide “a gentle reminder that someone cares” to children who are the victims of endangered environments and placed in protective care. Care packages consist of three new items—a pair of pajamas and a warm blanket tucked into a pillowcase. The collected items are sorted and distributed to agencies throughout the state as well as 21 DEC task force teams to give to children being placed in foster care.
“Since the holidays are traditionally a time when these agencies see the highest amount of drug use and domestic abuse,” said Mattheisen. “It makes it even more important that these children, who have few possessions anyway, have something they can call their own and that will provide a little TLC as they go to a strange environment.”
In addition to working on a degree at Upper Iowa in Human Services, with a minor in Criminal Justice, Mattheisen has worked in a Supervised Visit/Safe Exchange program with children, many of whom were placed in protective care because they had experienced varying degrees of abuse: sexual, physical, neglect, etc. She said, “This work experience has provided me with a deeper insight into this growing problem and has furthered my passion to work with children as a future Child Protective Services social worker.”
However, it was while attending the 3rd Annual Wisconsin Drug Endangered Child (DEC) conference in 2008 that the idea for her “Sweet Dreams” project originated. “I heard a lot of first-hand stories at this conference,” said Mattheisen. “But one particular account of how children involved in meth drug raids are treated really stuck with me.”
Mattheisen explained how these children are dealt with on the scene by a Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT). An MDT can be comprised of many different professionals and changes at each call depending on availability and county resources. A team can include such professions as social workers, medical, psychological, and law enforcement and if meth is involved, then a HAZMAT team is called.
After the child is removed from the home during such a raid, he or she is taken into a tent that has been erected on site, stripped of all their clothing and other personal belongings, showered and scrubbed down, forced to leave everything behind, taken by ambulance to the local hospital, and finally handed over to child-protection services.
“I was haunted by this scene and knew I had to do something for these kids,” she said. As a result, she collected over 1,500 care packages and 1,300 pajamas for distribution during last year’s “Sweet Dreams” kick-off drive. “It was an amazing accomplishment made possible by community support,” said Mattheisen. “There were individual contributors; church groups that brought in loads of care packages; school children who gave up their classroom gift exchanges; and countless businesses that held departmental challenges to see who could collect the most items.”
“It was also touching to see how much care and love people put into the packages,” said Mattheisen. “Some included notes expressing ‘Good Luck’ or ‘God Bless You,’ while others added rattles for the babies, stuffed animals for the toddlers, and toothpaste and toothbrushes for the older children.” The students, faculty and staff at UIU-Wausau are already busy collecting care packages for Mattheisen’s drive Dec. 12.
Mattheisen says she knew her project was a success after she started receiving positive feedback. She says one person wrote, “I’ve been in foster care all my life, and I wish someone had done this for me.” Another said, simply, “Thank you for doing this!”
This past year, Mattheisen’s program was recognized by the Wisconsin Alliance for Drug Endangered Children committee, as well as the Wisconsin State Attorney General’s office. In addition to her studies at UIU-Wausau and her part-time job, she now regularly speaks at church organizations, Lions and Rotary Clubs, and other community groups. Most recently, she attended the 2009 WIDEC conference Sept 16-17 at Wisconsin Dells and has been invited to be on the State Steering Committee for the WIDEC.
“This committee is full of energy, fueled by the common passion to help children in drug-endangered environments,” said Mattheisen. “And I am so very honored to be a part of it.”
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