Gaithersburg, Maryland (CNN)When Rob Scheer was 12 years old, he ended up in foster care after a childhood filled with violence and abuse.
How a nightmare childhood inspired his one-of-a-kind gifts
As he moved through the system, he carried his limited belongings in a trash bag. Yet he was determined to overcome the obstacles.
"I was not going to allow that trash bag to define me," Scheer, now 51, remembers.
He went on to join the US Navy and launch a successful corporate career, and he always knew he wanted to be a father.
In 2008, Scheer and his husband, Reece Scheer, decided they would adopt children out of foster care. Soon after, a pair of siblings arrived at their home. A few months later, another set joined them.
All the children showed up with their belongings in trash bags.
"I couldn't believe it. The trash bag that I had carried so many years prior to that had found its way back into my life," Rob Scheer said.
"It's just not acceptable that any child should carry their belongings in something that we all throw our trash in and dispose of."
The couple adopted the four children, and as a family, the Scheers began compiling supplies to donate to local foster children. Their nonprofit, Comfort Cases, was born.
"We started building cases for kids that came into foster care, making sure that they had the basics," Scheer said.
The backpacks are loaded with necessities like soap and toothbrushes, along with a book, journal, blanket, stuffed animal and other items.
Since 2013, the group has assembled more than 20,000 Comfort Cases for children in foster care all over the country.
"We want to make them feel loved," Scheer said.
CNN's Laura Klairmont spoke with Scheer about his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
CNN: You had a very difficult childhood. How were you able to overcome those obstacles?
Rob Scheer: I grew up in a very abusive home. Abuse that most people couldn't even dream about. My parents did drugs and drank, and they thought it was funny to take the gun and hold it to our heads. To them, it was a joke. To me, it was my life. But I had made a choice as a young boy that I wasn't going to be a statistic. I wasn't going to let anyone define the way my path was going to go.
CNN: What was it like when your children first came into your lives?
Scheer: When our kids came to us, they basically had nothing. So, we took them shopping. Every time they would look at something, we'd throw it in the cart. We just wanted them to know that we wanted more for them. Yes, it might be material things, but for a child who's never had (anything), that blanket means a lot.
That day, as we shopped and bought dolls and toys and blocks and puzzles, I noticed that my daughter (Amaya) never smiled. She said, "Thank you," but there was no spark. And I remember saying to Reece, "This is the happiest day of my life. I've waited for this forever. But I'm the father of the saddest little girl."
That night, Amaya went into her brand-new bedroom. Reece had laid three nightgowns out that he had just bought at the store. Amaya walked over and she picked up a nightgown and tore the tag off and she smiled. She really smiled. And she looked at me and said, "I've never owned a new nightgown before." I do believe that tag opened up a door in my daughter that is hard to understand. not being a child in foster care. I believe that tag reassured my daughter that she was worthy.
CNN: How did you as a family come up with the idea of Comfort Cases?
Scheer: After Amaya and Makai and Tristan and Greyson arrived in our home, and they were all carrying trash bags, I knew that we had to do something. We talked to the kids about what it was like for them on that first night and how they felt. We talked about what a child needs their first night in a foster home.
We remembered what the tag on the new pajamas meant for Amaya, so we knew we needed to include a brand-new pair of pajamas. We also wanted to make sure that they had their own lotion, shampoo, conditioner, bar of soap and deodorant. They shouldn't have to ask for these things on their first night. So, let's give them what we already know they need. I remember being that kid, and I wish somebody would have given me deodorant, my own bar of soap.
CNN: Beyond the necessary items, what are you trying to give foster kids on a deeper level?
Scheer: I want them to know that even though they started their life in the system, the system still is not defining them. I know that they deserve more. I know that in my lifetime, we're going to make sure that children in foster care get the same exact things we give our children.
We must start immediately by no longer allowing children to carry trash bags. And then we must also start by making sure that these children feel wanted.
Want to get involved? Check out the Comfort Cases website and see how to help.
To donate to Comfort Cases, click the CrowdRise widget below.