Hailey Ernst started thinking about the apparel business soon after her Thompson, North Dakota-home added members through the foster care system. Only 16 at the time, Ernst quickly began to realize how important and meaningful family relationships were to her—regardless of how her new siblings came to be a part of her family. In 2018, she started a foundation with a unique goal. Ernst and her mother, Melissa, wanted to provide experiences—like birthdays, swimming lessons, or the ability to play an instrument in the band—to foster children of the region. According to Ernst, most foster families have the funding to take care of regular living expenses, but in some cases foster families don’t have the funds to pay for extracurricular activities or special events that others of the same age might typically experience.
Through the Kindness Over Everything Project, Ernst has helped provide funding opportunities to foster children. “It has been an adjustment to become a foster sister,” she says. “It has taught me to treat relationships different than I did before. The people in your life today might not be there tomorrow.”
When Ernst started her Kindness project, all she wanted to do was raise money by selling apparel. After playing around with a logo that included the word Kindness and a single horizontal line underneath the word, they came across a name for their venture. Today, the project has become a successful charitable organization for foster kids. She started with a Facebook site and word of mouth selling. Then, she says, “it all blew up. People started buying T-shirts like crazy.”
Foster Misconception No. 1
For Ernst, the main falsity about fostering is one she learned about firsthand. “I’ve learned you don’t have to be the richest family to foster. You just have to have a loving home.
That is all most foster kids dream about.”
To date, her apparel is mainly sold in the region, but Ernst has already made it into several boutiques. She hopes to expand sales into Minnesota and western North Dakota through shirt sales and speaking engagements. Ernst also hopes that more businesses will place bulk orders or fund experiences through her organization. Many already have, she says. Minnesota-based Section 21 Apparel Co. has helped design and print the T-shirts and other gear.
Funds so far have gone to pay for everything from swimming lessons to a birthday party at River Cinema. According to Ernst, the foster family reached out to her after the birthday and said it was an experience they would never forget and that without the funding, they would have never been able to create such a day.
“Foster kids are typical kids,” Ernst says speaking of her own foster siblings. “They just want to do normal after school activities. They just want to be loved and feel like they are a part of something.”
With no plans to stop, Ernst has had several great moments leading the charge of the Kindness project. In addition to the comments and input she receives on the benefits of the Kindness-funded-experiences, she also enjoys people wearing her shirts. “I’ve seen them everywhere, but the best is at school. Some days I see my friends or teachers wearing my shirts. That is the best. I know I can have an impact, I know other people care.” G
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From Issue 5, 2019