By Shirley Hawkins
It was an exciting day of fun, food and entertainment as the non-profit organization Children Uniting Nations recently held its annual “A Day of the Child” Holiday Feast Luncheon for At-Risk and Foster Youth at the Proud Bird Restaurant. The non-profit organization, which pairs adult mentors with at-risk and foster youth, was founded to provide resources and bring attention to the plight of foster youth who often lack support.
“We all need a friend or mentor, it is the most important gift we can have in life,” said executive director Daphna Ziman, who founded Children Uniting Nations 14 years ago. “Caring about each other is the most important thing you can do in life. What Children Uniting Nations is all about is letting you know that we are all a family. We as a community need to look at each other as a family and make sure you become the best you can be,” she said.
Ziman added that the organization’s mission is to create loving, tolerant, and capable world citizens. Fourteen-year-old foster child advocate and actress Cassidy Mack, a ward of the foster care from the age of six, delivered an impassioned and emotional speech about her tumultuous journey as a foster child.
“Like all of you, I am a survivor,” said Mack, who founded Love Gives Chances, a non-profit organization that assists and advises foster youth. “My birth mom was too sick to care for me. I am a survivor of the foster care system. Was it easy or fun? No. I found myself alone and every day of every second. I would pray for a mom and dad who would take care of me. I was scared, but I did not give up hope.”
Cassidy said she was finally adopted by a ‘wonderful’ family and urged the youths in attendance to “find people who will lift you up. It could be a teacher, a counselor, or an adoptive parent. Write down something you are passionate about—a dream or a goal. Empower yourself to be a survivor.”
(l-r) Almease Davis, psychiatric social worker; John Charnay, board member; Daphna Ziman, founder and CEO of Children Uniting Nations; Rod Sherwood, board member; and his son, Harry Sherwood
During the festivities, the world of magic came alive when Sisuepahn Phila, nicknamed the Lady of Magic, astounded audience members by reading their minds. The petite magician, who weighed a little over 100 pounds, also drew applause when she invited two men from the audience to lift her up in the air. They completed the feat, but to the delight and amazement of the audience, the two men were unable to lift her from the floor during a second attempt.
Magician Brian Gillis mesmerized the crowd by performing coin and card tricks, and Phillip King, known as the Universal Harpist, enthralled the audience with his hypnotic rapping and melodic harp playing.
Phillip King, Universal Harp
The children were amazed when Hillel the Balloon Man pranced into the room and blew up a gigantic balloon that nearly touched the ceiling. To everyone’s delight and astonishment, he stepped inside the balloon, effortlessly rolled around and then exited the balloon to thunderous applause.
Balloon Man Hillel
The venue turned into a lively disco when a disc jockey started spinning tunes and the children flocked to the floor to show off the latest moves. Several mentors attending the event expressed their appreciation for Children Uniting Nations and its efforts to help foster and at-risk children.
Lil Dee, a participant in the annual event for the fourth year, observed, “I love the kids. I’ve been around foster children all my life. My aunt and my mother have always dealt with foster kids. Being with them has taught me to be grateful.” Tylette Purnell, a third year participant, said she had a great time bonding with her mentee. “She’s talkative, she’s just great. I like seeing the kids having fun.”
Mentor Ashley Viergeuver added, “It’s important for the children to have a sense of community and to be assured that there are people who support them.”
Ziman has always been passionate about at-risk and foster children and has even visited capitol hill to lobby for their welfare. She first became concerned about the plight of foster children during repeated visits to homeless shelters. Ziman became aware of the many abused children who were sent back to abusive parents, especially since there were loving foster parents waiting to care for them. She went to Washington, D. C. and successfully helped to revise the Family Preservation Act to increase protection for abused children.
(l-r) Daphna Ziman, CEO of Children Uniting Nations; actress Beverly Todd; actress and foster care advocate Cassidy Mack; actor Keith David, Norky the goodwill penguin
Also in attendance were veteran actor Keith David, actress Beverly Todd, psychiatric social worker Almease Davis, board members John Charnay, chief executive officer of Charnay and Associates; Rod Sherwood and his son Harry Sherwood, Jacob Segal, and John Agerholm.
Children Uniting Nations
or visit their website at childrenunitingnations.org.
Photos: Shirley Hawkins