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Power of Our People

Easing Life’s Baggage

Flush with bags, a college student finds new ways to support foster youths through difficult transitions

Photos by Eric Pohl

The police cruiser barely registered with Tim Allen when it moved past the porch where he was meeting with a child in the foster care system.

But the 11-year-old girl from rural Houston County noticed.

“She just started shaking,” said Allen, a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates, which assists children in the foster care system. “And I realized that the only context she’s ever had for a police officer was when her mother was pulled over with her in the car, for a drug violation.”

Stirred by the young girl’s response, Allen wanted to do something to help other children in her position, who may be entering the foster care system after a traumatic police encounter.

He knew who could bring his idea to life.

Hunter Beaton started Day 1 Bags in 2016, after his own foster siblings arrived at the Beaton house in Boerne with their belongings in trash bags. “How awful is that?” Beaton told Texas Co-op Power in July 2018. “No kid deserves this.”

In the five years since, what started as an Eagle Scout project with $10,000 in community donations for 15-year-old Beaton has become a full-fledged independent nonprofit that has delivered some 45,000 locally made duffel bags to children in foster care in 22 states. The premise is simple: Give those kids a reason to smile and something to call their own. Beaton, 20, now serves as CEO of the organization while he studies at the University of Texas at Austin, even spending his spring break meeting with police agencies and donors, looking over the finances, and crafting social media strategy.

Web Extra: Beaton with sister Hailey, who is Day 1 Bags’ social media guru, and his mother, Paula, who handles the finances. “When we had the winter snowstorm, [donors] were emailing, saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t forget. I’m going to pay, but I’ve got broken pipes,’ ” Paula said. “They still wanted to give. It’s amazing.”

Eric Pohl

“We are continuing to do our main mission: providing backpacks and luggage for foster children and at-risk youth who are moving from home to home,” Beaton said. “So many youth have been moved around so much—so to have something they can keep, that is really nice and to put any belongings inside really means so much to them.”

But now Day 1 Bags is expanding its reach, partnering with advocates like Allen to help more children and shine a light on lesser-known issues faced by youths in the foster system.

“I never envisioned it taking off like it did,” said Paula Beaton, Hunter’s mom and a member of Bandera Electric Cooperative. “And it’s overwhelming at times. I mean, we’ll have boxes arrive, and my husband’s like, ‘Ugh, another set of boxes’—and we never intended for our house to be a warehouse.

“But honestly, every quarter I ask Hunter, ‘Do you want to keep doing this?’ And he says, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

Serenity Packs

With bags supplied by Hunter Beaton and donations from Houston County businesses, Allen created packs of snacks, activities and other items designed to comfort children caught up in police incidents—especially in rural areas, where family members or Child Protective Services may be miles away.

“It could be 30, 40 minutes, and they don’t know what’s going on; there’s lights flashing, and the officer has to take care of an accident scene or an arrest,” said Allen, who is president of the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, in which capacity he met Beaton in 2017, and a member of Houston County EC.

Comal County sheriff’s deputies carry ASAP bags in their cruisers.

Eric Pohl

To equip police vehicles with bags for children, Allen worked with nearby departments, who were enthusiastic about the A Serenity Activity Packs, or ASAP bags, as he called them. Beaton was too, and his bags, sourced from Boerne-based Flying Circle Gear, were a perfect match.

“It seems odd maybe to have a bag full of toys and trinkets in a patrol car, but from what I’ve heard, the police officers love it,” Beaton said. “It’s something that can build a little bit of trust.”

Web Extra: Beaton speaks with Jimmy Chittim, president of Boerne-based Flying Circle Gear, which makes the bags that Day 1 Bags distributes. “I’m astounded by his support,” Beaton said.

Eric Pohl

Since January, ASAP bags have spread from Houston County to more than 30 police agencies in Texas—a total of 2,500 bags.

“It just kind of took off,” Allen said. “One county after the next—about every week or two we’ll hear about a new county implementing it.”

Adopt a Senior

Allie Grace Graves knows how life can be different for foster children because she was one before she was adopted as a 6-year-old.

“I had to grow up a lot faster than the average child,” said the native of Lone Star, in northeast Texas. “I was doing the dishes, getting on the church bus, roaming around town by myself before I was 4 years old.”

That was on Graves’ mind in 2020 as she was set to graduate from high school. She had her family to celebrate with but knew that more than 500 graduating high school students still in foster care in Texas would not.

She wanted to help and reached out to someone she knew could bring her idea to life: Hunter Beaton.

“Most high school students have someone to celebrate their graduation with,” Graves said. “We want that to be the case for every foster youth in Texas.”

Graves and Beaton teamed up to send duffel bags full of goodies, including personalized letters, to each graduate still in foster care. Donors “adopt” a senior through the program.

About 1,200 foster youths in Texas turn 18 each year without being reunited with their birth family or adopted. More than a quarter of them exit the system without a high school diploma or stable housing, and nearly half are unemployed, according to Texas CASA.

“When I first started, I was so focused on the younger side of things, toddlers and children, that I completely overlooked high school,” Beaton said. “So now we’re doing our best to help.”

Beaton expanded the program this year, outfitting all 562 graduates in the class of 2021 with a vital documents bag, gift cards, reusable water bottles and other items.

“Just so they have something to celebrate their graduation with,” he said.

Riding to the Challenge

A few years ago, when Beaton was preparing to get his driver’s license, he didn’t want to drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission. That would be too easy.

“I wanted to test in a stick shift,” he said. “So I practiced a lot, burned out my dad’s clutch but ended up being able to pass the driver’s test. I like big challenges like that.”

Hunter Beaton uses a dolly to load supplies in a warehouse

Web Extra: Day 1 Bags, Beaton’s nonprofit organization that started as an Eagle Scout project, has delivered some 45,000 bags to children in foster care in 22 states.

Eric Pohl

That same ethic is visible in Beaton’s commitment to foster children. Being named the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars Scout of the Year and winning a Congressional Gold Medal for his work was just the start.

“There’s always going to be a need,” Beaton said. “I want to continue to grow and do new things and make Day 1 Bags incredibly influential for these youth.”

It’s still a family effort behind him with Paula (his “top pusher and supporter,” he said) as treasurer; his sister Hailey as social media guru; and his dad, Kevin, serving on the board. The Beatons’ Hill Country neighbors also have kept up their support.

“People think it’s the corporate donors who do all the heavy lifting, but it’s really all the $10, $20, $50 donations here and there that really build it up,” Beaton said. “People are just so generous.”

He said he plans to continue his nonprofit work after college, where he’s studying communications and leadership. And while he accomplished more than most on spring break this year, Beaton still made time for the former foster children in his life—his own siblings, who started it all.

They played board games, basketball and tennis. “It’s fun to come back home and be around kids,” he said. “They aren’t so serious and make you laugh a lot.”