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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Fundraiser Brings Christmas Joy to Foster Teens

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Christy Fleming
Christy Fleming
The managing editor of TownSquareDelaware.com, Christy Fleming also supports a variety of non-profit initiatives in Delaware. Her background includes positions in public relations, advertising and journalism.

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Tim Schembs, left, lived in foster care for five years as a teen. He and childhood friend Matthew Martelli, right, are raising money for teens in foster care this Christmas.

Tim Schembs knows first hand the loneliness and anxiety of experiencing Christmas as a foster child. Now an adult with a successful career, Schembs is doing his part to help make the holidays a little brighter for some teenagers in the Wilmington foster care system.

Schembs, along with childhood friend Matthew Martelli, are spearheading the Governor Terry Children’s Center 5th Annual Christmas Fundraiser. They hope to raise $5,000 for gift cards, to fund special day trips, and for other gift items for the teens who have so little – and they hope the community will open their hearts to help this holiday.

On any given day, up to 10 teens live in the temporary emergency shelter in North Wilmington. The Governor Terry Children’s Center is often the first place the youth live as new wards of the state. With a few couches, a dining room, bunk beds, and a recreational room that doubles as homework space, the Governor Terry House is where kids begin their new lives – where other foster teens become their family. Ranging in age from nine – 17, some stay for months until a family offers to take them in.

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Two teenage girls currently share this space at the Governor Terry House in Wilmington.

Those who wish to contribute to the teens in foster care Christmas fundraiser can visit the GoFundMe page Schembs and Martelli have set up. The Governor Terry House is managed by CHILD, Inc., and all donations are fully tax deductible.

“I was a neighbor and buddies with Tim when he lived with his mother in Kennett Square,” said Matthew Martelli. Martelli maintained his friendship with Schembs right into adulthood in part because Schembs was able to live with his foster family in Kennett.

Now a successful investment manager at a local Fortune 500 company, Schembs spent five of his formative teen years in foster care in Kennett Square, including his first few weeks in a group home like the Governor Terry House in North Wilmington. “We are all united by the same experience of being in the system,” said Schembs. “The anger, resentment and issues that rise from feeling unwanted – especially at Christmas – will always remain the same.”

Schembs recalls his good fortune when he was taken in by a loving family with a foster mother with years of experience helping the abandoned and homeless. “That first Christmas in foster care, I received anonymous gifts from complete strangers.  I never forgot this or any of the people who have helped me along the way,” said Tim.

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The rec room at the teen temporary housing shelter in Wilmington.

When Tim was in his early twenties he started giving back by lending a hand at the homeless shelter in Kennett Square run by his foster mother. “I made a commitment to mentor and support at risk teens in the foster care system.” Schembs fulfilled his commitment year after year until he started his own family and the responsibilities that come with that.

That’s when Schembs started actively donating to the Governor Terry Children’s Center, and more generously at Christmas. This year Martelli offered team up with Schembs to help spread the word and encourage others to donate. 

Martelli: “Here I am with three beautiful children that want for nothing. And every time I would hold them, deep down I thought of all the kids out there that simply don’t have the love and guidance of their parents.  I wanted to be a person to help give those neglected kids the same love and guidance they deserve. Every kid should have a chance at a life.”

There are about 700 children in Delaware’s foster care program, and 40 enter the system every month.

With the money raised from the Christmas fundraiser, Schembs and Martelli will purchase emergency duffle bags for children who are transitioned to foster care for the first time and fill them essentials like blankets, toiletries – even a stuffed animal. And they hope to give each child at the Governor Terry House a $200 gift card to buy something they want on a supervised trip to the outlet stores.

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Governor Terry Child Center Director Allyson Fisher says each child will provide a short wish list. “They don’t always get everything on the list, but they are not forgotten.”

Governor Terry Children’s Center Director Allyson Fisher said the children are immensely grateful to members of the community who remember kids without families at Christmas. “The girls love being able to go out to buy a new outfit for school. Of course the boys will enjoy buying a new video game or a new pair of sneakers,” she said.

Martelli reminds us that many children often land in foster care for reasons that are out of their control. “They’re removed from homes for physical and mental abuse, neglect or abandonment,” he said. And at Christmas, this is the special time of year that they should feel safe, secure, and remembered. “These kids just want to have a chance to make it,” said Martelli.


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