My Turn: A Foster Mom’s Journey of Healing and Hope

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Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

I’ll be 45 soon, and looking back on the last 15 years, I’m in awe. Most days it’s hard to believe what I have accomplished, and even harder to believe that I am simply here, because for so long I wasn’t sure I wanted to be.

I grew up in an average New Jersey suburb with two sisters. For most of our childhood, our parents provided alternating versions of normalcy and complete chaos. They finally divorced when I was 13, and I spent years moving back and forth between them. I went from being a stellar student to barely passing, and depression, self-harm and a suicide attempt led me to an inpatient treatment center.

It wasn’t until I was 19 and started dating my now-husband, Joe, that I began to see that I deserved a lot more. When I was younger, I was sure I’d end up living in New York City—a writer with a carefree, kid-free lifestyle—but once I fell in love with Joe, I knew I wanted a family.  After a lot of discussions, we decided on adoption.

We quickly realized that the private adoption process was designed for people with more resources than we had, but when we learned about foster care, something clicked.

I became fascinated that there were so many children in the child welfare system waiting to be adopted and of the extraordinary need for safe, stable homes. As we went through training to become foster parents, our eyes continued to be forced wide open as we peeled back the layers of a system riddled with flaws, racism—and definitely not designed with the best interest of the child in mind.

On September 17, 2007, we got the call that truly changed our lives forever. A 3-day-old baby, with the goal of adoption, needed placement immediately and we had hours to decide. Armed with more experience, and an even deeper commitment, we said yes.

The rest of Mia’s story is one that I will save for her. For now, I’ll share that two weeks after Mia was placed with us, I found out I was pregnant with Liliana. Then, after 25 months in foster care, Mia officially became ours.

While on maternity leave, I knew we had to close our home to fostering. I was working at a marketing firm managing one of their largest accounts, and Joe had made a career change that put him on the road for weeks at a time.

But I also knew I wanted to give these children more. I wanted to show them that despite these difficult and traumatizing circumstances they were in or had been in, they still deserved to know joy. While all the adults around them scrambled to make sure doctor appointments were made and visits happened and boxes got checked, they still wanted to be kids, and oftentimes, those simple needs were the ones going unmet.

After learning about the flaws in the welfare system, I had shared my concerns with anyone who would listen. While many didn’t share my passion, they were still willing to do something, and I wanted to find a way that people who cared—but didn’t have an interest in fostering themselves—could help.

Joe and I invested a few thousand dollars of our savings into hiring a developer, and on December 19, 2008, One Simple Wish officially launched.

A nonprofit that grants wishes (submitted requests for needs or wants) to children who are or have been in foster care, One Simple Wish was born to be a space where we could share the need for simple joys with people who could make them happen—but to do it in a sensitive and uplifting way.

From over a year of me pulling double duty as an agency account manager and volunteer executive director to expanding to a Community Partner network with a few New Jersey agencies serving a few hundred kids, the organization has continued to grow.

Today, we have over 2,000 Community Partners in every state, grant over 30,000 wishes a year, and have raised nearly $20 million.

One of the best things about our work is that while we have grown significantly in reach and resources, we have remained a grassroots organization committed to always telling stories through the lens of sensitivity and hope.

Sometimes when I am going through the wishes on the website, I think back to my own childhood and the times when I felt alone and unsure. Even in those horrible times, I sought out joy, and I know that these children and young adults we are connecting to feel that need too— the need to smile, to feel hopeful and most of all to know that they are seen, they are heard and they are so very loved.

Danielle Gletow is the founder and executive director at One Simple Wish. Full bio at