Do you believe in magic? Tammie Rafferty, executive director of Project Believe, sure does.
Tammie’s life changed in 2002 when she agreed to take in and eventually adopt a 10-year-old girl named Mary who suffered from mental challenges due to childhood trauma.
When Mary was only 14, she had a psychotic break, and it became evident that she would face unique challenges throughout her life.
Mary was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She spent 15 months hospitalized at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital–College Hill Campus in an attempt to find the correct combination of medication and therapeutic support to allow her to live the most normal life possible.
While Tammie visited Mary during her treatment, she realized that other teens in her unit didn’t have many visitors. In fact, most were wards of the state. While she was taking her daughter some comfort items and coloring books, she realized others only had hospital-issued supplies.
To provide a bit of Christmas “magic,” Tammie decided to create comfort kits for the 10 patients in Mary’s unit. This one small act of kindness was a seed that kept growing.
“The following year, Mary was home, but I wanted to continue to remember the other kids, so I did the same thing,” says Tammie. “Five people came to my home to help me wrap all of the gifts.”
In 2007, Tammie founded Project Believe, a not-for-profit organization located in Tipp City that is dedicated to providing comfort and support to youth orphaned by mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges.
Project Believe’s reach goes well beyond Tipp City and Miami County. The organization supports facilities in Dayton, Springfield, Greenville, Sidney, Van Wert, and Washington Court House, all of which house kids from multiple counties.
The young people who benefit from Project Believe are mostly youth who are in foster care but not living in foster homes — instead, they are living in residential treatment centers and group homes to address mental health issues that are often a result of severe trauma. The children range in age from 6 to 18, but most are teenagers.
“They are getting the very essential help they need but have very few personal belongings or outside support,” says Tammie.
Thanks to contributions from friends, family, local businesses, and social media, what started as a small kind gesture grew into the amazing gift of Project Believe. The organization now supports nearly 300 children by providing comfort and support throughout the year.
Project Believe was built on the values that no child should feel alone or forgotten, every child deserves the comforts of home, promises are made to be kept, and that magic happens when communities come together and care.
Its cornerstone program is Christmas Magic. The group asks for community support to collect gifts from a specific list of essentials and activities to give to the children on Christmas morning. Some of the items that can be donated to the organization include pajamas, socks, fleece blankets, gloves, underwear, knit/crocheted hats/scarves, 24-count crayons, coloring books, playing cards, small puzzles, matchbox cars, stuffed animals, and wall calendars.
“The gifts are wrapped and packaged for delivery and then hidden at each of the facilities we support until the kids go to bed on Christmas Eve,” says Tammie. And then staff members bring out the gifts for a magical Christmas morning.”
In addition to Christmas Magic, Project Believe also delivers backpacks packed with school supplies every August to each of their sites, a tradition that they call Back-to-School Magic, as well as Valentine Magic, when they collect handmade and store-bought valentines by the thousands and shower kids with them each Valentine’s Day, reminding these children they are not alone or forgotten.
“We receive a lot of thank you notes from the kids we support and those are priceless to me. I also love watching the ripple effect of Project Believe on others,” says Tammie. “We have families who make our Wrap Party a yearly tradition, an elderly lady has told me that making hats and scarves makes her feel like she has purpose, and then there’s the groups of kids who pool their resources to help — I like seeing others being part of the magic.”
One of Tammie’s favorite events each year is the annual Wrap Party that grew from five people in her living room in 2008 to more than 200 volunteers in 2019. Unfortunately, due to COVID, Project Believe will not hold their traditional wrap party this year, however, they are in the process of creating a virtual wrap party.
“A few years ago at a wrap party, a young girl who was volunteering approached me, pointing at my name tag, and asked if I was the same ‘Magic Tammie’ who sends valentines because she had received one of mine,” says Tammie.
That was a full-circle moment.
“I’ve had a teenage boy once tell me he felt rich — like a king — as he twirled with his new pajamas, blanket, and granny scarf,” says Tammie. “And another young lady told me we had made her feel like she had a family.” That’s exactly why Tammie and Project Believe do what they do.
Interested in learning more about Project Believe, giving, or the Wrap Party? Visit the Project Believe Facebook page.