Avery Jenkins, a second grader at Evanston’s Dewey Elementary School, needs special shampoo and haircare to get her curls ready for school every morning.

Her mom, Petina Dixon-Jenkins, helps her make that happen.

Avery realized not everyone has a family member to help them get the right products and show them how to do their hair. Inspired to help others, the 8-year-old launched a fundraiser this year to donate curly hair kits to kids in the state foster system who could use the specialty products.

Illinois is not alone. A recent study conducted by a social worker in the United Kingdom found that foster system and case management staff often lack a “working knowledge” of caring for the curly hair of Black and brown kids.

“I’m grateful that I have a beautiful mom that takes care of me. And I want the people who have curly hair like me, the kids, to have their own hair kits or their own hair supplies,” Avery said in a delightful video posted to Instagram. “And I want the foster people that look after them to help them with their hair.”

From left: 6-year-old Sully Jenkins, mom Petina Dixon-Jenkins, 8-year-old Avery Jenkins, grandmother Hazel Dixon and grandfather Lester Dixon in front of the Lydia Home, formerly the Rice Children’s Center. Credit: Duncan Agnew

Avery and Petina launched a GoFundMe for “Avery’s Helpful Hair Kits” on March 30. So far they’ve collected more than $3,000 and partnered with Atlanta-based MKS Products to purchase supplies in bulk.

GoFundMe campaign

Each kit costs about $15 to make and includes curly-hair shampoo, detangling conditioner, shea butter moisturizer and detangling brushes designed for curly hair.

Avery officially made her first donation of 25 kits to kids at the Lydia Home Evanston on April 28. Lydia Home is a residential treatment facility for kids between 8 and 15 who experience severe emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges.

Most of the roughly two dozen children who live at Lydia Home are there for six to 12 months, according to Elissa Garcia, director of residential services. The goal for the staff is to help the kids grow and develop so they can return to their parents, a foster home or a relative.

Garcia runs the residential side while District 65 hires teachers and staff who manage every school day for the kids. Both the residential program and school used to be called the Rice Children’s Center, but the nonprofit Lydia Home Association now operates the residential facility.

The resources available to kids at Lydia Home are limited by what the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services can afford to provide. The center has standard haircare products that all the kids can use, and it is currently working to find ways to consistently meet the hair care needs of Black and brown kids living there, Garcia said.

Hair care issues

Specialized products are more expensive, she said, and kids in congregate care settings often have to share a shampoo bottle with their peers, which can be difficult. The staff at Lydia Home helps kids with their hair as much as possible, but donations from people like Avery are often vital to meeting each child’s unique needs, Garcia said.

“Issues surrounding hair care for youth in foster care are complex. Caring for our hair and overall hygiene is something most of us learn from our natural families, and youth in care are often disconnected from their cultures and communities of origin,” Garcia said. “Their foster parent may not know what is needed to take care of their hair, especially if the foster parent is from a different racial or cultural background than the child. So there are many children in foster care who do not have access to the training and products they need to take care of their hair.”

Garcia and the staff are searching for a licensed beautician who would help out with the hair care needs of curly-haired kids at the center, she said.

Meanwhile, Avery is asking for additional GoFundMe donations so she can continue building kits for Lydia Home and other organizations around Evanston and the Chicago area.

“We’re talking to some folks at DCFS Illinois,” her mother told the RoundTable on Friday. “There’s [also] an African American youth council [with DCFS], and this is one of the issues that came up for them as being important. I actually just heard back today that they’re very interested in seeing what else we can do and growing the program.”

With her kits growing more and more popular for kids in need of curly hair help, Avery shared her message with her fellow elementary school classmates in Evanston.

“Be giving,” she said. “If you believe it, and you work hard for it, anything is possible.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. I think you’re an awesome young lady. You probably have no idea of how much it helps these girls.
    They are so appreciative when they are given anything. Thank you
    Now a question. I have 2 bi-racial granddaughters. They have in fact been in the foster system and we’re placed with me. The older granddaughter I ended up adopting. She was with me off and on for most of her life. The second granddaughter is with me now. I have tried just about every product and have not found the one that truly leaves their curls moistened and curly all day. I am get it to look gorgeous but by the time I pick her up from school it has grown in size by 2 times and looks dry and brittle.
    Please tell me what product you use and give to these girls so that I can try it on my granddaughter.
    Thank you and greatly appreciated,
    Christina Boswell