Thirteen-year-old Grace Hendricks-Schleinkofer couldn’t take anymore.
“I felt extremely lonely and suicidal. Nothing could make anything better if I stayed in that environment,” she said. “I packed the things I could fit in my bag and walked out, to a Jack in the Box down the street, and called my grandma.”
Hawai‘i has approximately 1,500 children in foster care programs. Joanne Wood’s family foundation, the Michael B. Wood Foundation, advocates for these children. Wood said that while foster families protect children from dangerous family situations, it is far too common for children to be shuffled between foster families until they ‘age out’ of the system.
“There are so many roadblocks and hurdles along the way,” she said. “Foster children need loving support, bolstered self-esteem and financial stability.”
Wood and husband Mike help foster children receive this support and find financial stability.
Mike Wood was inspired to help children in dysfunctional situations after experiencing his own rough upbringing. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers suffered from emotional issues. Wood worked after-school jobs to help provide for his family from the time he was just 8 years old, according to Midweek magazine.
In addition to founding and funding Ho‘omalu o na Kamali‘i, a transition home on O‘ahu’s Wai‘anae coast for abandoned or abused children, the couple established scholarships for foster youth headed to UH Mānoa.
The Joanne Yaeger Wood Scholarship and the USN CDR George Walker Yaeger Scholarship assist students who are in foster care or are transitioning from foster care. The scholarships provide support through four years of education, in hopes of retaining students through graduation.
Hendricks-Schleinkofer, now a student at UH Mānoa, is one of the inaugural scholarship recipients.
“This scholarship makes everything a lot less stressful,” she said. “I felt super guilty the last couple of years because my grandparents had to help me pay for college. With this scholarship, I can pay my tuition without assistance from my grandparents, who’ve been very supportive. Now they don’t have to do that anymore.”
With support from the Woods, Hendricks-Schleinkofer hopes to complete a degree in creative media. “If I can’t get a job in animation right away after graduation, I’d like to go to graduate school and further my education,” she said, “perhaps through programs with internships for more experience.”
Young adults like Hendricks- Schleinkofer carry heavier burdens than non-foster children, said Joanne Wood. “Our family hopes to give them a chance in life. It won’t be easy, but we hope they can obtain a college degree and be better prepared to meet day-to-day challenges as responsible adults.”