Story by Sara Paul
On a recent trip to Turtle Back Zoo, Amber Alyssa Vitoulis found herself comfortably mesmerized in the indoor butterfly exhibit. With the beautiful fluttery insects naturally attracted to her, Amber was soon covered in the magical colors of these iconic bugs.
When Amber was charged with creating a community based activity for her Girl Scout Cadette Silver Award project, her charitable choice was simple and the name, flutterly obvious.
Herself a teen who was fostered as a baby before being adopted at age three, Amber chose an initiative close to her heart and a campaign title close to her soul.
“Butterfly Bags: Bringing Hope to Children in Foster Care” aims to provide a new bag for each child entering foster care. Backpacks or duffel bags will be filled with comfort items such as blankets, clothing, pajamas, books, toothbrushes, stuffed animals, and coloring books.
Notably, the new bag will replace a trash bag, which is typically the receptacle kids used to transfer their belongings. Amber plans to attach a “Butterfly Tag” with an inspirational message on each.
“I feel really bad because kids can be taken from a bad situation and maybe feel their parents don’t care, so I want them to know that there are people who do care,” said the teen, who will be entering the ninth grade at Warwick Valley High School in the fall.
Amber has already received dozens of donations of bags, coloring books, clothes, and lots of tooth brushes, though much more is needed.
Amber’s mother, Ann Marie, said, “Amber didn’t go through what other children do in the foster system, fortunately, but she has always had empathy for children in foster care.”
For the Scouts project to qualify, it must be sustainable for five years. Working with the Grace Community Lutheran Church as well as with family and friends, Amber and her mom are confident that Butterfly Bags will continue to fly.
“We’re hoping enough people learn about it and care about it so we can continue our efforts for as long as there is a need,” said Ann Marie.
Amber is helpful at home, taking care of one-year-old canine, Riley. Her heart is also firmly planted on the saddle of a horse as she has been an avid rider for five years.
“She’s so caring and has such a big heart. She wants to help kids through a time that can be difficult and frightening,” said Ann Marie.
“I’m extremely proud because this is something dear to her, and she is just going for it,” said her Dad.
As sweet and beautiful as any butterfly could be, this young heroine insists, “Anyone can make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Volunteering is a good way to do that. Being kind is another.”
Amber will be presenting her project at an informative table at the Warwick Senior Center, located behind Town Hall at 132 Kings Hwy. in Warwick, on Mon., Aug. 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. All are welcome to learn about her efforts, donate articles and assist in making gift tags.
Donations will also be accepted at the Albert Wisner Public Library, located at 1 McFarland Dr. in Warwick and at the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 25 Waterstone Rd. in Greenwood Lake. For more information, find Amber’s group on Facebook at butterflybagsofhope or send an email to ButterflyBagsForHope@gmail.com.
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature young people of Warwick who are doing meaningful things. Whether in school, athletics, in the community or at home, we know there are many moving stories that need to be told. These “hero” stories can be from the incredible to the mundane, from the kid who saved his dog from drowning to the teen who takes care of a sibling with special needs. We ask that if you know of any young individuals who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces, that you contact Sara Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-702-3091.