Charlene Shipley is a woman with big ambitions, and an even bigger heart. Shipley assists children in Louisville, and throughout the state, in many remarkable ways.
She is the head of the nonprofit organization called Roo’s Wish, which provides a myriad of supplies and services for foster children. The organization is named after her adopted daughter, Roo, who became a member of the Shipley family when she was a little girl.
Shipley and her husband, Jerry, have three older children who are in their teens and 20s. The thought of fostering or adopting never really crossed their minds until they entered into a discussion with a friend one day.
“We play softball for Southeast Christian Church, and one of our teammates was as social worker,” Shipley says. “She began talking about foster care and the need for good homes, and we were like, ‘okay, we’ll do it!’ even after our friend said it’s a lot of work.”
Shipley’s first impression of caring for a foster child was to help them for a while, then maybe help the mom, and then return the foster child to their birth parents.
“I really didn’t understand how complicated it could get,” she admits.
The Shipley’s first experience with fostering, in 2013, focused on caring for teenaged children, doing what is called therapeutic foster care, or taking in kids that the state cannot place.
“We didn’t enter into fostering with thoughts of trying to adopt,” Shipley says.
Then one day, the Shipleys received a call about the three-and-a-half-year-old child, Roo. The agency did not have specifics about Roo, but there were a few diagnoses they were considering, one of them being autism. She was also completely non-verbal at the time. The Shipleys gave her a warm, nurturing home and they eventually adopted the little girl. Shipley says that Roo has flourished and over the years and is such an important, integral part of their family. Roo is now nine years old.
Shipley explained that parents must attend continuing education classes in order to keep up their status as a foster parent. It was during one of these sessions that Shipley came up with a brilliant idea to help foster children.
“We were going to our class one day and that’s when I saw a trash bag in the hallway of the building where our class was held, filled with a child’s belongings. I knew that the child was either relocating or just entering care,” she says. “I said to my husband, ‘this is kid is going through the worst thing in their life, and literally transporting his or her life in a trash bag.’” At this point I became overwhelmed by just thinking about what we can do to help children in foster care.”
When Shipley saw the bag, she said it was like a lightbulb had gone off in her head.
“I can collect duffle bags; my friends can collect duffle bags and they’ll bring them to me!” she explained. “I was lying in bed at night, so overwhelmed by where to start, where to help, because I was seeing so many things that were wrong.”
The idea finally clicked in Shipley’s brain. Her idea was to make it a six-week project and collect 100 duffle bags. She wanted to donate them to Benchmark Family Services, the agency they’d worked with to foster their children.
“I went home and made a flyer and posted it on Facebook,” Shipley says. “Everybody responded. Everyone had duffle bags or luggage, and nobody knew that foster kids we just getting trash bags to transport their belongings. Some people were like, ‘I have luggage—what size do you want?’ We said we’ll take anything. We want to make sure that we have plenty of stock on hand.”
During those six weeks, Shipley said that they also accepted blankets because they wanted to give the children something they could call their own.
“When children transfer homes or are taken out of care, they come with the clothes on their back,” she says.
Although her goal was to collect 100 suitcases initially, the response was incredible. They ended up with 2,500 suitcases during those first six weeks. Shipley says that it was all due to the community stepping up and donating the luggage. They had pieces coming from all over the country. They’ve also had donations from California-based luggage company Biaggi Luggage, which has been featured on the television show “Shark Tank.” The luggage owner’s wife reached out to Shipley. Coincidentally, the company’s main warehouse is in Louisville.
At first, the Shipleys kept the luggage in their home, which was an amazing feat in and of itself. She said they had suitcases and duffle bags reaching from the floor to the ceiling on both floors of their home. They were able to find a warehouse where they could keep their stock, but she explains that the luggage is in such demand that they are sending pieces out all the time, so there really isn’t any type of backlog these days.
Because of the outpouring of community involvement, Roo’s Wish has been able to do so much more for foster children and families beyond providing luggage and blankets.
One project involves remodeling foster visitation homes throughout the state.
“We started remodeling foster visitation rooms which are basically where the foster children spend time with their biological parents,” Shipley says. “These rooms didn’t offer a lot of ways to interact with the child. They were very run down.”
The first room they remodeled was in Meade County, and to date, they’ve renovated 13 rooms.
Again, their ability to do projects such as this is because the community jumps in to help.
“Everything we do we post on social media, and somebody knows someone who can do something to help,” Shipley says. “We also do an Amazon link. Everything we need is on that Amazon page, and people can go on there, buy it, and ship it to us.”
That is how the room remodeling was made possible. People donated supplies, paint, toys—you name it. The physical work was done by Shipley, her husband, family members and friends.
Four years ago, Roo’s Wish began another project by collecting Christmas stockings and stuffing them with items and passing them out to foster agencies. Many of the items are also provided through their Amazon account. Shipley says that finding enough items is a year-long project, beginning in January, when they can purchase discounted items after the holiday season. Last year they provided over 2,500 stockings that were filled with gifts.
They have also done motivational events at the Muhammad Ali center, featuring guest speakers who have all had a similar past as these foster children, giving them advice and hope, talking about how to never give up.
Roo’s Wish continues to grow thanks to the generosity of the communities they service, and their mission is to improve the journey of a foster child any way possible.
To find out more about Roo’s Wish and how you can participate, you can visit their website, roos-wish.com.
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