- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2015

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - When Mason Hymer was 3 years old, he was taken by a social worker to the doorstep of a couple he’d never met before and told that would be his new home.

“It felt lonely,” said Mason, now 12. “I didn’t know what to expect, or what would happen.”

He also arrived at that rural Jasper County home between Carl Junction and Asbury with virtually nothing but the clothes on his back, The Joplin Globe (https://bit.ly/1K8EOLG ) reported.

As a 9 year old, that experience was the inspiration for a project that Mason and an adoptive sister, Mackenzie Hymer, now 14, decided to start for other children in the foster care system.

To date, they’ve served an estimated 1,000 children in eight counties in Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas and Northeast Oklahoma.

In the United States, nearly 400,000 children live without permanent families in the foster care system, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. More than 100,000 are eligible for adoption, but nearly 32 percent of those children will wait more than three years in foster care before being adopted.

Often times, children are removed from their biological families abruptly, noted Emily Hymer. She and her husband, Aaron, have adopted Mason and Mackenzie, as well as five other children.

A conversation in the car with them one day in 2012 about how they could serve others and God prompted Mason to begin brainstorming ways to help comfort children in foster care.

Additional input from Mackenzie led to the creation of Bundles of Hope.

They would work to gather pairs of youth pajamas, stuffed animals and toothbrushes to tie up with a ribbon and a note that someone in the world cared, and ensure those bundles got into the hands of children headed to foster families.

Mason and MacKenzie, who with the other Hymer children are homeschooled, began with a booth at the Carl Junction schools Christmas bazaar. Their handcrafted poster announced the project and requested donations of items and funds. That day, they collected $200.

They also gained two more team members: Their booth caught the eye of twin sisters Mati and Abbey Goebel, 13, who are students at Carl Junction Junior High, friends with the Hymers and are passionate about community service.

They also have an adopted little brother, Cooper, now 6. They put their heads together with the Hymers and got busy.

“We started a bank account and called Jasper County Children’s Division to ask what they needed,” Mackenzie said. Eventually, they added more items to the bundles.

They did OK, handing out a few hundred, but they stalled out at one point, they admitted. A challenge this summer by the Hymers’ dad, Aaron, to serve all surrounding counties by September rekindled their passion.

“We spent the month of July talking to supervisors, setting up appointments and delivering the bundles,” Abbey Goebel said. “And we met the challenge with a month to spare.”

Today, the team has a logo they wear on T-shirts. They have the phone numbers of circuit managers in the eight counties on speed dial in their cellphones. They routinely speak to groups of as many as 40 about their project.

They also have a website (www.bundlesofhope12.org) and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. They are licensed as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, and have a post office box in Carl Junction.

And they now have one side of a large, sunny craft room above the Hymer’s garage dedicated to Bundles of Hope.

Upstairs, above the garage, Mason climbs onto a step stool to reach one of several gray, Rubbermaid totes on a wall of shelves.

It’s carefully labeled “10 and bigger boy’s winter pajama packets.”

MacKenzie reaches for one labeled “stuffed animals.”

The Goebel twins stretch to reach a couple of colorful backpacks on an upper shelf and a few personal hygiene items. Within seconds, they’ve brought it all to their work table, assembled the backpacks and tied a hand-made tag on each with a verse from the book of Proverbs and a checkmark to indicate whether the recipient should be a boy or girl, and in which season.

“The verse is Proverbs 23:18. ‘There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off’,” Abbey says as she turns to show the back of her shirt, which, like the tag, is printed with the verse. “This is all about giving kids hope.”

They also demonstrate how a “Car Bundle” is assembled - a new idea they conceived to help ease what could be a scary car ride for a child leaving his or her home for foster care. “Car Bundles” stay in a social worker’s back seat and are filled with games, snacks, bottled drinks and inexpensive toys. They are replenished when needed.

“We do nothing but drive them,” said Mason and Mackenzie’s mom, Emily Hymer, who popped in to the interview only briefly. She said she prefers to allow them to be the spokespeople since the project is “all theirs.”

“Their initiative, determination, their ambition, is inspiring to us as their parents,” their mother said. “We’ve seen through their actions what we could all do if we got up and did it.”

The four youths say they get as much out of the project as they give.

“We like to have responsibility,” Mackenzie said. “It shows us what we’d have to do as adults.”

They also enjoy the camaraderie and the feeling of being in charge of something, they said.

Back downstairs, the team wants to show a video made by Christ in Youth, which chose the four as Kingdom Workers of the Year. The Hymers’ adopted siblings take a break from school work to watch.

The video reveals something Mason, Mackenzie, Mati and Abbey had forgotten to share: That one day two years ago, two young siblings, Adam and Eve, were brought to the Hymer home by a social worker.

When Mason came to the door to greet them, he saw they were carrying Bundles of Hope.

“He ran to his room crying,” his mother said, “because he realized then the impact that what he had started truly had. It hit home.”

They plan to continue, “as long as God will allow us,” Mackenzie said.

But they don’t want the glory, they added. They credit their church, Christ’s Church of Oronogo, along with hundreds of other donors, with financial support and donations of items. They also credit a local “extreme couponer,” who each month clips coupons for toothpaste, body soap and other consumables and goes shopping for Bundles of Hope.

“We’ve all grown a huge passion for it,” Mati Goebel said. “God has given us a passion for it.”

Currently serving Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence, Barry and Stone counties in Missouri, Ottawa County in Oklahoma and Bourbon County in Kansas, they have discussed partnering with other individuals and groups across the nation to expand their reach.

“We have a motto now,” Mason said, crediting Mati Goebel with thinking of it. “Today our county, tomorrow the world.”

“And it all started in a car ride.”

___

Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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