Tess Wood knows what it’s like to know no one who knows what it’s like. Wood, a sophomore business student, says her nontypical family background made it hard for her to find close friends.
Starting when she was age 15, Wood went through kinship care, in which children stay with relatives, because her mother became unable to take care of her and her brother Daniel. Tess went to live with her mother’s parents, while Daniel was cared for by his father’s parents.
“For someone from that background, it’s really hard to make friends … because, A, you don’t know if you’re going to have to up and move at some point,” Wood said. “B, it’s very hard for someone to relate to someone from a rough background, [who] doesn’t [also] come from a rough background.”
Inspired by her personal experience and by an entrepreneurship class, Wood plans to open a safe space named Daniel’s Den, named after Wood’s brother, for children in nontypical family situations. Daniel’s Den will help children in foster care and kinship care to connect with peers from similar backgrounds and receive mentoring, counseling and tutoring.
“This [center] would give the child a way to have someone older to look up to and also have somebody to relate to on a one-on-one level,” Wood said.
Because of their unique situation, children growing up in nontypical family settings can struggle with their identity, Wood said. “When you’re struggling to find your identity, you often feel like you’re alone,” she said. “It was just very hard, and I turned to some pretty nasty ways to cope with that.”
“Your coping mechanisms are developed when you’re younger, and this [center] is a way for children not to fall into the coping mechanisms of drugs or alcohol or other things,” Wood said.
Daniel’s Den would help fight that loneliness by providing an opportunity for these children to build long-lasting relationships. The center would also provide resources to help children pursue other healthy activities. For example, a student interested in photography could borrow a camera and other equipment for projects while receiving hands-on instruction from a mentor.
Another motivation for the center comes from Wood’s Christian convictions. Christians are known for being pro-life, and Wood says it is important to continue caring for the lives of children after they leave the womb as well.
The idea for Daniel’s Den came while Wood was taking an entrepreneurship and innovation class with Dr. Adele Dunn, who teaches in the Division of Management. Dunn encouraged students to be creative about business ideas. “I was actually sitting in my friend’s apartment one night and I just thought, ‘Hmm, wouldn’t it be cool to have a place for kids to hang out after school and be able to find other people like them?’” Wood said.
Wood shared her idea with Kaitlyn Graf, a senior business administration major, who created a 3D rendering of Daniel’s Den.
However, Wood still is looking for people to help with the technical aspects of financial and legal planning since regulations for non-profits can be rigorously specific. She is also looking for a skilled public speaker to help with presentations and pitches to donors.
To fund Daniel’s Den, Wood hopes to plan a fundraising drive. After the safe space is established, donors could sponsor a child at the center with a monthly gift.
Speaking to students who feel like they are suffering alone, Wood says she has been there too. But she has also seen hope shine into her shadows. “You don’t know how God’s going to use you,” she said. “I definitely didn’t think this would be me in college!”
“You are not alone, because God puts you in very different situations in very different times and in very different ways, and He somehow brings you through every single trial [and] mishap. … God is always there, and [the trial is] always there for a reason,” Wood said.