Toowoomba’s volunteer ‘angels’ enriching the lives of children in foster care

Toowoomba economics PHD student Nicholas Umashev has been sharing his love of learning with a 12-year-old foster child through The Pyjama Foundation, and the effects have been life-changing.

The Pyjama Foundation is a Brisbane-based charity that supports children in the foster care system by providing them with a dedicated learning mentor volunteer.

Mr Umashev, 27, has been paired with the boy for six months and his weekly visits to his foster home have created a strong bond of friendship and trust.

“It’s important that I can be a fixed person in his life, an avenue of support that is unwavering,” Mr Umashev said.

“Foster children can spend their life constantly changing between foster homes, schools, counsellors so I can be the one person who doesn’t change,” he said.

“I really love the sense of achievement when I see my foster kid learn a new skill, make a mature decision, and see his growth. He has started going to school regularly and pushes himself through homework exercises.

“I’m incredible proud of him and the young man he is becoming.”

Pyjama Foundation Darling Downs Coordinator Karen Smith said it was wonderful to see younger volunteers such as Mr Umashev become involved with the charity.

“Nicholas has changed this 12-year-old boy’s life,” Mrs Smith said.

“The only vegetable he would eat was a potato chip, so Nicholas guided him through recipe reading and the pair made rice paper rolls with vegetables together,” she said.

“His foster carer was amazed. It was the first time he’d eaten vegetables and he even took them for school lunches.

“It has been wonderful for him to have a good male role model in his life.”

Member for Toowoomba South David Janetzki MP said positive relationships were powerful agents of change for children in the foster care system.

“In the Toowoomba (south west) region there are about 2,500 children who have been removed from their homes and unable to live with their families due to child abuse, neglect and trauma,” Mr Janetzki said.

“Trauma can cause children to be irritable, anxious and aggressive,” he said.

“We know that 75% of foster children don’t finish high school and 35% of foster children end up in the juvenile justice system, having a life-long impact.

“Foster parents do an amazing job and are so busy. Pyjama Angels such as Nicholas and Olivia support their Pyjama children with learning, life skills and confidence.”

Mr Umashev enjoys showing his pyjama boy that reading extends beyond books.

“I like to be creative and keep our visits diverse,” Mr Umashev said.

“Reading a novel is not very exciting for a 12-year-old boy, so we will read recipes and then cook. We will read board game manuals and then play. We read a manual on how to fix a steam engine toy he had that was broken. We read maps, atlases and even planned a fake holiday together for some inspired dreaming,” he said.

“You can’t be what you can’t see. I think it is really important that men become more involved in our community by volunteering and providing these foster children with positive male role models.”

Toowoomba woman Olivia Sedl, 25, was matched with a six-year-old girl through the Pyjama Foundation last year.

“My visits were a lot of fun with my pyjama child,” Miss Sedl said.

“We would draw, paint, blow bubbles, jump on the trampoline and play tag,” she said.

“It gave her foster Mum and sisters a break while she could have my undivided attention. We developed a close relationship quite quickly which, for a young person who has experienced trauma, becoming someone they could trust is a huge thing.”

Members of the community who have one hour spare each week are encouraged to join The Pyjama Foundation. Visit or call 07 3256 8802 for more information on how to apply.

The Pyjama Angels are currently supporting 66 children in Toowoomba and have helped more than 330 children since they began in the Darling Downs in 2007.