Senior reaches homeless, foster girls through Foster Box

Senior+Catrina+Coe+prepares+75+boxes+to+donate+to+organizations+such+as+Presbyterian%2C+Make-A-Wish%2C+and+Arrow+Ministries.+She+supplies+each+with+25+boxes+of+their+choice%2C+either+the+My+Space+or+My+Place.

Provided by Catrina Coe

Senior Catrina Coe prepares 75 boxes to donate to organizations such as Presbyterian, Make-A-Wish, and Arrow Ministries. She supplies each with 25 boxes of their choice, either the My Space or My Place.

By Karis Chen, Bellaire High School

Senior Catrina Coe steps into the Freedom Place shelter, immediately aware of the eerie stillness surrounding her. Similar to every other time she has stepped inside of this shelter, Coe is engulfed by a feeling of sadness as she surveys the scenery in front of her which bears an uncanny resemblance to an abandoned campsite.

This past summer, Coe started her non-profit Foster Box as a way to reach girls in unconventional living situations such as foster homes, homeless shelters and orphanages. So far, Foster Box has distributed 75 boxes and partnered with three different organizations including Arrow Ministries, Make-A-Wish and Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services.

A member of Bellaire’s International Baccalaureate program, Coe first received her IB CAS project assignment at the beginning of her junior year. The CAS project requires IB students to design community initiatives that focus on creativity, activity or service.

“I knew I wanted to focus my project on female empowerment and girls’ wellness,” Coe said. “That inspired me into finding a specialized aspect of female empowerment, specifically those who have been sexually abused or sexually exploited.”

After compiling a list of 15 homeless shelters, foster places and churches in the Houston area, she reached out to each one.

“Before I even figured out what I wanted to do, I just asked them what they needed,” Coe said. “Ten of them came back and told me what exactly they would like to have more of.”

Currently, Coe’s main source of funding is the $500 she received from the PTO.

“Every year, the PTO chooses several students and donates grants to them to fund their projects. Besides that, I have options on my website to donate a box of your choice, either the My Space or My Place box.”

To fulfill the specific needs of each shelter, Coe created the My Space and My Place box, each with a unique purpose.

“The My Space box is for mental health and includes things like a diary and pencils, empowerment cards, stress relievers like stress balls and then fun decorations to hopefully make their day a little better,” Coe said. “Then the My Space box focuses on the physical needs of women and includes sanitary items like masks, hand sanitizer and a general women’s hygiene kit.”

While these items have been especially important during the Covid-19 pandemic, the pandemic has also limited the extent of Coe’s interactions with the recipients of her boxes.

“Because of COVID, I haven’t been able to meet any of the girls, and I’ve only been able to give it to the directors of each organization,” Coe said. “But all the directors have been really appreciative and grateful, so it’s been really nice to get some form of positive response.”

The My Space box aims to care for the mental health of girls ages 10-16 in homeless shelters, orphanages, and foster homes. It includes a diary and pencils, empowerment cards, and a stress ball. (Provided by Catrina Coe)

Even with these restrictions, Coe’s experience has still had a personal impact on her perception of her community.

“My most impactful experience was the first organization I partnered with, Arrow Ministries,” Coe said. “They have a residential treatment center called Freedom Place for women who have been sexually exploited to hide from their abusers and to recover. They gave me step-by-step directions to keep the location disclosed. The fact that I wasn’t able to meet any of the girls, and the fact that they had to feel as if they had to make the location disclosed made me realize the severity of the situation and the potential impact I could have.”

Coe worked closely with Jaye Hull, the Campus Coordinator of Freedom Place.

“Catrina was kind enough to offer any number of boxes to our facility,” Hull said. “Although we typically have a census of 16 on campus, I requested 25 with the plan to also disperse these items to clinical offices and have a few to include in welcome baskets for upcoming intakes. The boxes are helpful to have on hand when a client is dysregulated and there is a need for a comfort item or sensory stimulation to ground them.”

Foster Box supplied professionally packaged “sensory boxes” that included stress balls, journals and other items to engage residents.

“The donation was extremely helpful and gave us a resource for items that are frequently used and in need of replenishment,” Hull said “It was also a fun teaching moment to share with some of our older girls that the project was led by a high school student. They were interested in the fact that she is ‘their age’ and involved in such a great service project.”

Coe hopes to brighten up the girls’ days through her boxes.

“My goal is that when the girls in a homeless shelter receive a box filled with all these resources they feel better in some way,” Coe said. “For example, they can journal in their diaries and hopefully find comfort in that.”

Coe founded Foster Box off of her own self-initiative, but she does have a board of directors composed of her parents and family, friends and her church’s minister. Kenneth Calhoun is one of many directors.

“As a director, I am involved in giving guidance on business matters,” Calhoun said.
“Catrina’s leadership skills, high level of organization and the initiative she takes are necessary to get people involved and keep them in line. I’m glad to assist with Foster Box, it’s a very positive effort and a satisfying, rewarding use of effort and my time.”

Coe agrees that founding Foster Box has given her unique leadership skills.

“Obviously it’s something that I can put on my college apps and in my essays, but it’s also given me a lot of unique leadership skills,” Coe said. “It’s different from the leadership skills I developed from being a dance choreographer, for example.”

Additionally, Coe hopes to open up volunteer opportunities in the near future.

“Whenever COVID slows down, we’ll definitely do more in-person stuff such as helping with packaging, getting materials for running and other things like that,” Coe said. “I definitely want to continue Foster Box when I go to college, but whether I take it with me to college or not, that’s a different story. If someone else wants to take over next year for Bellaire and the Houston community that could potentially be an option.”

Coe is proud that she was able to positively impact these girls’ lives.

“The smallest difference makes a difference,” Coe said. “Even though I can never change the fact that these women have experienced traumatic experiences, I can hopefully make their recovery process or their day, just a little better.”

This story was originally published on Three Penny Press on December 9, 2021.