BREAKING THE SYSTEM ONE BAG AT A TIME

by | May 2, 2023

Growing up in an abusive household can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s life. For Rob Scheer, this experience was just the beginning of a long and difficult journey. As a child, Rob endured physical and emotional abuse, ultimately leading to his placement in the foster care system. However, his struggles did not end there. At eighteen, he was forced to leave his foster family’s home and fend for himself with little support or resources. Despite these challenges, Rob refused to give up and continued to pursue his dreams.

After overcoming numerous obstacles, Rob Scheer established a sense of stability in his life, which included securing a job and finding love with his husband, Reece, and their five loving children whom they have adopted from the foster care system who arrived at their home with the same type of trash bags Rob was given years prior. Today, he is a vocal advocate for foster care, using his platform to raise awareness and promote kindness and compassion toward children in need.

Rob Scheer is a shining example of what is possible when one refuses to be defined by their past. Through sheer perseverance and determination, he has overcome his hardships and dedicated his life to helping others. As the founder of Comfort Cases, Rob is working to ensure that children in the foster care system have the essentials they need to thrive. His story has inspired millions worldwide and is a powerful reminder that anything is possible, even in the face of adversity.

Rob Scheer sits down with Gurus Magazine for an exclusive interview as he shares his life journey, mission, and his charity, Comfort Cases. Read more on the Q&A below:

Gurus Magazine: What inspired you to start the Comfort Cases Charity?

Rob Scheer: Comfort Cases was founded in 2013 to end a disrespectful practice that has endured for 40, 50, and 60 years+: giving a black trash bag to youth entering foster care to put all their belongings in. This is the ultimate indignity at such a disruptive emotional time in their young lives. This happens whenever a youth is being moved from one home to another – be that home they’ve grown up in with a parent or caregiver or from one foster home facility to another. Imagine being taken out of your home due to a decision or an event made by someone else, often a trusted adult – and then handed a trash bag to put your things in and sent somewhere new to live.

And then, upon arriving at this new destination, maybe you’re given pajamas to wear – used or borrowed from someone else. Maybe you’re told to wash up in a bathroom and told to share a toothbrush, share a bar of soap, share a bed or blanket with strangers.

This isn’t just theoretical: I grew up with abusive parents, often moving to other family members’ homes. I eventually entered the foster care system as a child who had lost both parents. I was brought into a house with all my belongings in a tattered and torn trash bag. 

Years later, when my daughter and son first arrived on our doorstep through foster care, they experienced the same undignified process I had endured many years ago. I was floored that children still carry their lives in a trash bag. The same type of trash bag I had used.

We are committed to engaging communities and educating the public about the issues facing youth in foster care. We believe in encouraging young people to lead by example and to take action to alleviate the suffering of children in the system. In addition, we provide volunteer opportunities for all ages so the entire community can be involved together.

GM: What is a Comfort Case? What are the essentials included in the Comfort Cases backpack?

RS: In 2013, my husband Reece and I founded Comfort Cases to eliminate trash bags from the foster care system. Each Comfort Case® is packed with all new essential items: a cozy new pair of pajamas, a stuffed animal (“stuffie”) to hug, a toothbrush, soap, a book and/or journal, and a hygiene kit filled with new necessities and other personal care items. The gift of these simple items tells a child: you matter. Since then, we have given out more than 200,000 Comfort Cases® throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the United Kingdom.

Being in the foster care system can be emotionally and mentally hard. Growing up in that environment, where did you get the courage and strength to overcome and rise?

My life has been a challenge since the day of my birth. Growing up with abusive parents and being shuttled from one family member to the next, not knowing if I would have a bed or a meal to eat, and then entering the foster care system at a young age was not the life I would have chosen.

At the age of 18, as a senior in High School, I was told to leave the home I had lived in for more than six years, as I was told that I had “aged out of foster care” – so my foster parents (my “Mom and Dad”) no longer were “getting a subsidies check,” so I had to leave. 

Those first nights alone out in the cold, numerous thoughts came into my head – from giving up on life to proving the system wrong and persevering. I chose to forge ahead: I lived in a car, outdoors, on couches at friends’ houses — anything so I could graduate high school (which I did), then joined the Navy and eventually became a very successful businessperson in banking and finance.

This is not to say that my life was perfect once I graduated high school. As I grew older, additional struggles set in. I was gay and had to deal with revealing that to friends and family members. I was in and out of abusive relationships, drank too much, and became addicted to drugs. Yet I persevered because I knew the alternative and my inner strength was always there, pushing me forward. 

I knew there was more to be done with my life – including having a family and improving the lives of youth in foster care.

GM: How important is it for kids who are in the foster care system to have a solid support system like Comfort Cases?

RS: Our mission at Comfort Cases is simple: to inspire communities to bring dignity and hope to youth in foster care. We’ve seen the reaction from youth across the globe as they’ve been given a Comfort Case® or a Comfort XL® (a new duffle bag in which to put their belongings in). As they open the case and see their toothbrush, their pajamas, their own “stuffie,” and even their own “blankie.”(When we were putting together the first Comfort Cases®, it was my son Greyson who said: “Dad, we need to put in a ‘blankie.” When I replied that these children are not cold and that our cases were for the youth of all ages, including up to 21, he answered, “I know, but every time they wrap themselves in it, they’ll know that there is someone out there who loves them.”)  And we’ve included one ever since.

There are amazing, Good Humans in this world, but we need more to work with our children. And yes, these are all our children. Our community is not just our neighborhood – it is everywhere, and with more than 700 youth being placed in foster care every day, we need more people to support these youth. We’re motivated for Comfort Cases to start the process and provide at least initial comfort, support, and dignity and will continue to do so.

GM: How did you come up with the 2023 Scott Isaacson Scholarship Application? 

RS: This award is given in honor and memory of Scott Isaacson of Integrity Staffing. Scott was tragically lost in 2019. Scott and his husband Kevin were huge advocates of foster care programs and proudly adopted their son from a foster program in Reno, NV. Integrity Staffing has been a proud supporter of Comfort Cases for years.

We award this scholarship annually to a deserving high school student currently or formerly in foster care. A $5,000 grant is awarded to students to support them in continued education, including college or technical programs.

Studies show that just 3-4% of youth who had been in foster care obtain a four-year college degree. However, only 50% of these youth who age out of the system have gainful employment by 24. Our mission is to help these youth – at all ages and stages in their lives – so they can achieve as adults.

GM: How can people help or donate to Comfort Cases?

RS: There are so many ways that people can support our mission. I’ll outline a few of these below, but for more details, I suggest visiting our website: https://comfortcases.org/. There you’ll learn more about who we are, our cause, and ways that you can help or donate. Some of these include:

  • Become a “Bag Buster”: For just $10 a month, you can support our mission to eliminate trash bags from the foster care system. For every $10 donated, a Comfort XL duffel bag will be given to a child entering foster care. 

  • Volunteer: If you’re in the Washington DC area, come volunteer at our national center in Rockville, Maryland! We always need help sorting donations, counting inventory, and packing Comfort Cases to send to children in foster care. All ages are welcome to join us – we love to see kids helping kids! We have Open Hours slots for individuals and small groups at various times throughout the week. 

  • Host a “Packing Party” or “Backyard BBQ”: You can gather co-workers, friends, relatives, or neighbors to pack Comfort Cases®, host a pajama drive or raise donations. These programs can also be adapted for “Mitzvah Projects,” “Scout Badge Projects,” “Pageant Platforms,” and more!

GM: You are launching the #BagBusters Program in May, coinciding with National Foster Care Awareness Month. Can you tell us what that is?

RS: We’re very excited about this program as it aims to put an end to a horrible practice.  Starting May 1, Comfort Cases is inspiring nationwide change in the foster care system through the #BagBusters Challenge. We are asking that a minimum of 1,600 of our friends become a $10/month #BagBuster. Each BagBuster who signs up will ensure the horrifying tradition of giving a child entering foster care a trash bag for their belongings is wiped out and replaced with a Comfort Case and/or Comfort XL. We’re encouraging everyone to help the #BagBusters Challenge go viral on social media by posting a short (60 seconds or less) video and use the hashtag #BagBusters and #NoMoreTrashBags with a link to our Bag Busters program. You can register as a #BagBuster and find out more information by visiting: https://comfortcases.org/bagbusters/.

GM: What would you like to tell young kids who are in the foster care system?

RS: Believe in yourself. Everyone has a story, and each of us plays a role in helping others move forward in our society. Anyone who thinks someone has had a “perfect life” knows that that is impossible. We need to learn and grow from our experiences to be better humans. For youth in foster care, it may appear that the system is working against them, but I know of so many success stories like my own – those who have stood strong, fought both their inner demons and those thrown at them by others, and have achieved.

Lastly, be kind to others and strive to be a “Good Human.” So many people in our society need help, and even more, we can help others. Be one who helps others so that their story and yours are proud to be shared someday, as I have. 

For more about Rob Scheer and Comfort Cases, visit their website at https://comfortcases.org/.

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