Eastside Connections student recognized for efforts to help foster children

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Forty years ago, Niles native Loren Michael Harris was a foster care child, shuffled from home to home, toting his few precious belongings in nothing more than a garbage bag.
Throughout his time in the system, Harris said he was moved between 22 homes. With each move, he dreaded arriving at his new home clutching a garbage bag.
Harris is now a motivational speaker and author who also helps aids a nonprofit “Consortium For Kids.”
Last month, Harris, who lives in Naperville, Illinois, was heard about an Eastside Connections student who was working to make the plight of foster care children like Harris better.
Kih’Lee Culberson decided that this year, for her 12th birthday in March, she wanted to ask for tote bags, which could be donated to those in the foster care system.
“I was like, ‘I have a lot of things that a lot of people don’t, so I thought why not give to all the people instead of me?’” Culberson.
Culberson came up with the idea after observing incoming foster care children who lived with one of her mom’s friends, Paula Rose. She then told her mom, Whitney Thornton, that she wanted tote bags as her birthday present.
For Harris, having a bag to put his things in would have meant more than dignity.
He said it would have meant “everything.”
“How can a sixth-grader see it and say, ‘something about this just does not seem right,’” Harris said. “But millions of adults are blind to it? She really removed a layer of pain and replaced it with a layer of healing. Removing that trash bag is like removing a scarlet letter.”
To recognize Culberson’s efforts and encourage others to help their community, Harris paid a visit to Eastside Connections Friday, where he thanked Culberson and presented her with several awards, before the school’s talent shows.
Standing before the students at Eastside, Harris told students that one good deed is like a catalyst for change.
“One person starts the ripple,” Harris said. “That person that you do something nice for is most likely going to do something nice for someone else, because you have created the ripple effect.”
Culberson’s one act of kindness had reached as far as New York, where Susan Grundberg, the executive director of the nonprofit “You Have Got to Believe,” which helps foster children find permanent homes, heard about Culberson’s wish. On Friday, Harris presented Culberson with a letter from Grundberg thanking her for her efforts.
“I am writing to thank you for your amazing work on behalf of youth in foster care,” Grundberg stated in a letter presented to Culberson.
Though Culberson was scheduled to move to Indianapolis Friday, Harris said she had left something behind that would continue to be a positive aspect to the community.
Culberson also received a certificate of special recognition from U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.
Tears streamed down Culberson’s face as the school applauded her one last time. Culberson said she had no idea that her birthday wish would have such a wide-ranging impact.
“I did not expect it to get that big,” Culberson said through joyful tears.
Culberson started collecting bags a couple of days before her March birthday and was able to collect more than 200 bags for foster care children. The bags were passed along to the Berrien County Department of Health Human Services to be distributed to children.
The experience made her want to continue to give, Culberson said.
“I want this to keep happening,” Culberson said.
Harris said he hopes that Culberson’s efforts will continue to inspire those in the community and perhaps encourage someone to carry on the project.
“The things that people do simply because they need to be done, that is what made Mother Theresa. That is what made a Gandhi,” Harris said. “Anything that has to do with healing deserves a voice.”