When I was a little kid, I vividly remember repeatedly asking my parents if I could have a younger sibling (even though I already had two older brothers). I realize how lofty of a request that was now that I am a mom of two. Maria Paparella asked her parents the same question when she was a little kid, but her passion to have a sibling turned into something far greater than she could have ever imagined.
Maria grew up in a large Italian family outside of Akron. Unable to have more children due to health reasons, her parents considered adoption for a long time and there was one instance where Maria almost gained a sister. Sadly, that situation fell through, but it only peaked Maria’s interest in learning more about the adoption and foster care systems in our country.
As a young teenager, Maria started volunteering for Summit County Children Services. She learned that you could research various foster care cases online because it is considered public information. She started asking questions about what happens to these kids once they age out of the system and learned that less resources were available to them when they made this transition.
Maria asked the employees at Children Services what the biggest need was for kids aging out of foster care. Their answer? Furniture. This fueled her desire to help these kids even more. At just 16 years old, Maria started Chair-ity: A nonprofit that provides donated furniture and household items to young adults aging out of foster care.
Maria quickly learned that making a house into a home was expensive. She will never forget her first trip to deliver items to someone. The girl was only 18, just two years older than Maria was at the time. She remembers feeling unsafe as she walked up the stairs to the second floor because she saw cigarette butts and syringes laying on the ground outside.
When she walked into the apartment, there was no overhead lighting, no furniture, no plates or forks and just a pillow and blanket on the ground in the bedroom. The girl had a trash bag of clothes, but otherwise, no possessions. Newly out of foster care, the girl was in the middle of her senior year of high school and had to walk to/from her part-time job every day. Maria was in shock because she was so unfamiliar with these circumstances. “I lived in a privileged bubble growing up,” Maria commented. “I never realized this community existed.”
Within 30 minutes of Maria’s arrival, Chair-ity was able to make the girl’s house into a home. They outfitted the apartment with living room furniture, a kitchen table with chairs, a bed and a dresser to store her clothes in. The one item Maria distinctly remembers the girl enjoying was the last item brought in: a lamp. “She took such pride in owning that lamp,” Maria remembered. “Having these things gave her a sense of dignity.”
All the furniture Chair-ity delivers is donated to their organization, with the exception of beds and cribs – they purchase those items new. They have grown to occupy two warehouses, one in Akron and one in Cleveland. Nationwide, more than 19,000 children exited the foster care system in 2021 with no family, reunification plan or permanent home. Of these, 1,000 were aging out in Ohio proving the need for supportive services for those leaving foster care. In Cuyahoga County, 134 young adults aged out in 2022; Chair-ity served 70 of these youth and 22 of their children.
Join Community West Foundation in supporting Chair-ity. Visit www.chair-ity.org
to learn how you can help.
By Maria Estes, Marketing & Communications Director
Maria Paparella helps unload a dining room table set to a client.
Maria and her volunteers unloading items for an apartment.
A client after receiving donated furniture from Chair-ity.