"Aviva Divas" make bags, quilts for growing number of CPS children

"Aviva Divas" work on homemade bags, quilts for children in CPS care.
"Aviva Divas" work on homemade bags, quilts for children in CPS care.

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - More children are ending up in the care of Arizona's Child Protective Services and non-profit agencies like Aviva Children's Services, which helps children in CPS care where the state cannot, say volunteers are an integral part of its organization.

Every Thursday, a simple but crucial task is underway at Aviva.  The "Aviva Divas," as they've become known, are volunteers with the "Bags for Kids Program," which has existed since 1999.  The program started after a caseworker saw a child put their belongings into a plastic trash bag and decided that was unacceptable.  Now, the program and the "Aviva Divas" specifically, sew, quilt, and care for children they will never know.

"It's very important for the kids to know they have something of their own they can take with them," Flora Ornelas, a volunteer said.

In 2011, Aviva says it handed out four thousand bags to children in our community.  Last year, that number jumped to six thousand.

"Would you travel with your stuff in a garbage bag? No," Bob Heslinga, the executive director at Aviva said. "You have a suitcase or some way of transporting your stuff."

Heslinga says between having more children in the system and recent layoffs at Aviva, volunteers like the "Aviva Divas" are more important than ever.

"It does, it gives you goose bumps when you think about some of the kids," Mae Venneman, an "Aviva Diva" said.

Venneman and a dozen or so other women, make bags, quilts and some dolls for children who have been pulled from normalcy.

"Every stitch you're thinking of the kids that are getting them and enjoying them," Venneman said. "I would like to know sometimes where some of the quilts go, what kind of children get them and if they appreciate them. I'm sure they do. I'm sure they do."

They know they do from simple thank you notes, a reminder that the four thousand children currently in CPS care in Pima County are grateful to put their world not into a plastic bag, but into a handmade cloth duffle made by "Divas" who care.

Heslinga says Aviva provides "enhanced services" like mentoring and tutoring, and of course the handmade quilts and bags.

"When we say enhanced services, that doesn't mean it's fluffy throwaway stuff," Heslinga said. "It means we're doing stuff to make sure these kids have a crack at a decent life."

The "Aviva Divas" are always looking for donations of gift cards, quilting material or fabrics.  To make a donation, contact Aviva Children's Services directly:

153 South Plumer Ave  Tucson, AZ 85719

(520) 327-6464

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