Last week I had the opportunity to document Nicole Russell speaking to high school students participating in a program called Usher’s New Look on the topic of service. Ever since I met Nicole, she has always been so giving and always providing service to others. After the event, we stopped at a Starbucks in the city to chat before going our separate ways…
“I am a philanthropist. I am a foster sister. I am constantly in service of others & have a non profit called Precious Dreams Foundation (PDF). Where we not only provide comfort items for bedtime to children in foster care and homeless shelters but we also teach kids the importance of learning how to self comfort and be self reliant.
I was inspired to start PDF when I met this little girl who changed my entire world and way of thinking. Her name is Miracle; at the time she was four years old. She was a foster child who came to live with my mother. Although she was the happiest girl during the day and full of life and so outgoing, at night time she would suffer from nightmares. One night I was sleeping on the sofa, visiting my mother’s, and I witnessed Miracle sleepwalking. Having a nightmare and screaming & crying in her sleep. It literally broke my heart. I remember waking her up and she was very out of it. She didn’t really know where she was. They say you are not supposed to wake up someone while they are sleepwalking. And she went back to her bed and said “I’m ok, i’m ok.” while she grabbed her teddy bear and started talking to her bear and turned over. I felt so helpless. I wanted to talk to her about what she had just gone through and tell her everything was going to be ok and I realized in that moment that the teddy bear, that comfort item, did that for her. That was something my mother taught her to do because she was waking my mother up every single night. The next night the same exact thing happened again. I went back to sleep in tears. It made me so upset there was nothing I could do to stop her from remembering these traumatic experiences. I knew the only thing we could provide was help in comfort.
At that point I asked my mother what can we do to help other kids that may be in similar situations or in foster care. I started doing research to see where I can give back and where we can donate stuffed animals and pajamas. I couldn’t find an organization that focused solely on bedtime and solely on teaching kids how to use these things to feel good at night. And so, I just kinda took life into my own hands and decided to start a non-profit. We are going to provide this service that is necessary for these kids that are having these bad dreams. It started with foster kids, expanded to homeless kids and now we provided “Comfort Bags” to thousands of children all over New York, Los Angeles, and outside of the country as well.
It’s very hard to turn the blind eye once you know that there is a problem. Before my sister, I had no idea what foster care was like. I never actually thought about what those children may be experiencing. I never thought what does a child do when they have a nightmare and they don’t have parents. For me, I always would run to my father’s room and ask if I could sleep in his bed. I had people there to help comfort me. Once I realized there were children sleeping and having nightmares and did not have anyone to run to, I had to do something. It’s hard to not help, especially when it comes to children.
PDF has grown a lot. It was founded in 2012. Within the first year, I got an email from Glamour magazine, naming me their 2013 Hero of the Year, which was insane to me because PDF was not even operating for a full year yet. They gave us me a full page spread. Investigation Discovery featured a commercial on the organization that ran for two months. We have been really blessed to have exposure on shows like The Today Show, which helps us build awareness and it has helped us to raise the funds necessary to help thousands of children. Our first year in service, I remember, we helped 300 kids. We actually sat down with, talked to, and provided bags to 300 kids.
This year alone, we are now at 2000. I knew the organization would grow but we still have so much further to go because the problem is massive. Not just in New York but in America. Here alone there is over 11,000 kids in foster care. There is over 23,000 children that will transition in and out of homeless shelters this year. Those numbers are humongous and all those children need comfort. Although we are operating on a larger scale, we still have a very far way to go in trying to ensure that children can focus on their dreams at night and not their fears. Not the negative thoughts about things they have gone through that day. I really think that in helping children focus on positive things and focusing on their dreams is really going to make a difference.
Outside of PDF, the main thing that I do that a lot of people don’t know about is play a very large role in my sister’s life. My mother raised Miracle for 5 years. When Miracle was 10 years old, her birth mother realized she wanted to raise Miracle herself. She fought to get custody of Miracle, which she did. Unfortunately now, Miracle is in a place where her family that she lives with, in her mind is not her real family. It is a very challenging thing for all of us to go through with her. I have been very fortunate that her mother and grandmother allow me to still play a major role in Miracle’s life. I pick her up every other weekend. I feel like I am kinda coparenting with her at this point. I call her at night and we do homework together over the phone. She relies on me almost for everything. Her grandmother calls me when Miracle is not listening and needs discipline over the phone. It’s just crazy but I have to continue playing that role in her life until she is old enough to do for herself. That is probably the most important work that I do that a lot of people don’t know about. I am constantly either on the phone or spending all of my days off with this little girl Miracle.
Aside from that, I realized my purpose is truly to help people learn how to self comfort. There are a lot of kids who aren’t as fortunate as Miracle, who don’t have someone to come into their life and inspire them to be something better. If we can through the Precious Dreams “Comfort Drops” & teach these kids how to self comfort, they can then become self reliant and know that no matter who tells you, “You won’t aspire to something amazing.” As long as you believe it, you can make it happen. My goal has now been to teach children how to self comfort and how to be their biggest cheerleader. I just finished the first draft of a book that I am working on for kids, teenagers specifically, that will address different things that they are going through and speak to them in a language that they understand. And let them know that no matter your situation is, you will have control of your life and you can have control of the voice in your head. The voice in your head is very powerful and you can use it to work for you and not against you.”
To learn more about Precious Dreams Foundation visit: preciousdreamsfoundation.org