It's not easy building a successful nonprofit from scratch. Try running one focused on America's invisible children — kids in foster care — and you get a glimpse inside Danielle Gletow's world.
Unlike autism or childhood diseases, middle-class Americans don't typically rally around the plight of the country's 400,0000 foster kids, she says. "There's almost a sense that the kids have done something to deserve this," says Gletow, founder of One Simple Wish, a Trenton, N.J., organization that grants wishes to foster children. "They didn't."
A few years ago, Gletow says she was like most well-to-do suburban folks: She worked hard, brought home a good corporate salary, and spent disposable income on "fancy" stuff like Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo designer heels. "That was my sign of success," she says. While she didn't have the easiest childhood due to her parents' divorce, she had no exposure to the child welfare system. Most people don't, she says.
And then, in 2006, she became a foster parent. She and husband Joe were "super-busy" at work — and for a variety of reasons, decided to foster a child with the goal of adoption rather than become pregnant. They had just completed certification when "the phone call came in," she says. An 18-month-old boy, Jose, arrived at their door, wearing a giant winter coat and a onesie. "This adorable little boy just looked so confused," she says. "Within a day we were like, 'We love this baby.'" After three months, Jose returned to his family.
Then came Antonio. "He was two years old, and came from a very neglectful environment," she says. "We thought we were going to adopt him." That didn't happen. His biological mother completed a "very brief rehab," and regained custody, Gletow says. "One of the most devastating things I've had to deal with in my entire life was saying goodbye to him."
The experience shattered them both. They took a break. They decided to get pregnant the old-fashioned way, with no success. And then, one last call came in — this time, about a newborn girl. "And it was like this crazy feeling of, 'Oh my God, that's my baby,'" Gletow says, who recalls having to persuade her husband to trust the system one more time (he relented). Two weeks after they welcomed Mia, Gletow discovered she was finally pregnant. Daughter Liliana was born the following June; the sisters are now 9 and 8. "It was awesome," she says.