Since opening its doors in August of 2016, Phoenix-based Thrive AZ has made it their mission to change the lives of countless Arizona families for the better. Thrive AZ has played an integral role in foster care prevention and biological family reunification by connecting deserving families with critical resources and support that would otherwise be out of reach.
With over 18,000 children currently in foster care in the state of Arizona, the need for organizations like Thrive AZ is substantial—and the challenges even more so. But when you ask Thrive AZ Founder Teri Vogel what keeps her going on her most difficult days, she’ll say with a chuckle and a wink:
“Coffee, Jesus and Amazon.”
Today, Brooklyn Bedding proudly partners with Thrive AZ to provide age-appropriate mattresses and bedding for families in transition. Although Teri might downplay just how much energy and compassion it takes for her and the entire Thrive AZ team to continue helping Arizona families, the key to success is much bigger than just a good night’s sleep. We caught up with Teri to learn about the inspiration behind the organization and her secrets for success.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning…. what was the inspiration behind Thrive AZ?
Teri: “As a volunteer about 5 years ago, I was working with a young woman who was dealing with a crisis pregnancy. She was dealing with domestic violence, substance abuse, a history of trauma… trying to beat all of these things. She was six months pregnant, and I was working with her as an advocate to help reunite her with her six other children that were in foster care.
“[At the time], my husband and I were new empty-nesters and we had downsized. We sold our big car, we sold our big house, and we had just moved [to Arizona] and lived in a small apartment. So one day, this mother I was working with called me to tell me that she was at the hospital and had just had her baby. She told me that DCS was on their way to remove [her infant son], and she asked me if there was any way I could take the baby for her.
“So I called my husband and said, ‘we’re going to get a baby tonight.’ Naturally, his response was ‘… what?’ But he knew who I was advocating for and he knew her story, so by about 8.30 that night, [DCS] had completed all of our background checks and deemed us suitable as a kinship family. So this four-day-old infant was dropped off to us with nothing but a car seat while I dropped a few hundred dollars at Walmart buying formula and baby bottles.
“Fast forward a bit, and over time we were able to move her into [a temporary] home, connect her with food pantries, help her find employment, and other resources she would need—and slowly reunite her with her infant son and her six other children.
“So it was [this woman] and her family that showed us the challenges. [Because of my time working with her], I came to learn that there are 18,000 kids in foster care. I know that every 40 seconds in the state of Arizona, a child is removed from their home and put into the foster care system. I know that these babies are [often] exposed to substances [in utero]. And I knew why they were removed… they didn’t have beds, they didn’t have enough food, they were sleeping in cars. At that point, I couldn’t unknow it.
“So that’s where the passion came from. Walking with [this mother] and seeing all of the missing pieces that had to come together for her to get back on track. Our work with Thrive AZ comes from a very deep place in our hearts because we [were a part] of that journey.”
Q: Why are things like bedding, sheets and pillows so important to the families you work with?
Teri: “In order for children in foster care to be reunited with their biological families, plenty of measures are taken to ensure that they have the necessities they need. By the time that these families receive things like beds, sheets and pillows [from our organization], it means that they have already worked very hard to comply with many other home safety requirements put in place by DCS. After mattresses and bedding are delivered, DCS can complete a safety inspection and finally allow their children to either visit overnight or to reunite with their biological family permanently.
“But the problem is that [this process] is prohibitively expensive. Biological parents have to secure housing, maintain a job and then [be able] to purchase items like mattresses and bedding. Very few of [the families] we work with have one or two kids… most have four or five, or sometimes more.
“What’s unique about Brooklyn Bedding is that you provide not only twin-sized beds, but also full and queen mattresses as well. So we are able to give our moms a dads an appropriately sized bed, along with many of our older teens. That’s so important because [our families] need a good night’s sleep, since many are working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.”
Q: What is an example of a time when something like new bedding has made a significant difference in the life of a family you worked with?
Teri: “We had one client who was forced to move from parking lot to parking lot while sleeping in her car, all while tucking her children in at night and cleaning them up in a Fry’s bathroom before sending them to school. We were eventually able to take her from living in her car with her children to emergency transitional housing, to now working two to three jobs—including donating plasma every month [for extra money]. We recently gave her a brand new queen-sized Brooklyn Bedding mattress. It has likely been more than a year since she’s had her own bed to sleep in.”
Q: For you personally, why do you feel that getting a good night’s sleep is important for your work?
Teri: “I talk a lot about compassion fatigue. Honestly, it’s not the physical exhaustion [that gets to me]—I run on coffee! With compassion fatigue, there are times when it feels like it’s all too much to hear. But you have to hear it, and you have to be willing to walk through it with these families while trying not to play the almighty savior. As much as we want to, we can’t always save everyone.
“Quiet time and rest is important to me. That and spending time with my family is what recharges me. We even adopted a child out of foster care and recently housed a young man who had aged out of the foster care system. [My family] always says, ‘our kitchen table is a mission trip every night!’”
Q: Your work must be enormously rewarding, but surely it takes an emotional toll, too. What types of thoughts keep you up at night?
Teri: “I know that we win some and we lose some. When I’m not winning, that weighs on me. Thinking about the foster children we’ve had in our home—wondering, where they are now? Are they safe? Things like that keep me up at night. Even the stories of our moms and dads. I can’t imagine being a biological parent and having DCS come to take my children to live with complete strangers and not know where they are. That’s what keeps me up—the fight for those biological families.”
Q: What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
Teri: “What the day ahead of me will look like. [To prepare for tough days], I like to envision myself handing things to God. When I get up in the morning, I have to say ‘okay God, please protect me from the people who I am not meant to be involved with and bring me the people that I am.’ I think that helps me walk with people and help them carry their burdens, but not end up taking them all on my own. I have to really focus and ask Him to direct my steps.”
Q: What are your dreams for the future of Thrive AZ?
Teri: “For the organization, the dream is growth. More people are learning about us and we’re reaching more people. My biggest goal is to reduce the number of kids in foster care, because [our organization] plays a big part in foster care prevention. We are one of the top states for human trafficking and children in foster care, and I want to change that and lead the fight in that.
“Because, when you think about it, if we could keep biological families together and prevent things like DCS having to remove children, maybe [our clients] won’t end up in situations like crisis pregnancies and as victims of human trafficking. As much as we want to think only about the kids, when you go back and look at [our clients’] stories, things have happened to her as well. It’s the whole family unit that needs to be healed and restored.”
To learn more about Thrive AZ or to support new projects helping Arizona’s families in transition, visit their website and donate at ThriveAZ.org. To find out more about the Brooklyn Bedding partnership with Thrive AZ’s Dream Center project and other organizations helping local families, visit our Cause page.