Monday, December 31, 2007

Church support of kinship care

Community helps grandmother care for 8 kids
Chang-Yen, Anna. Ventura County Star, Dec. 29, 2007.

Lola Jenkins, left, is greeted by St. Paul Baptist Church member Pam Thornton after mid-morning services. After word about her predicament was publicized in the church newsletter, donations started arriving.

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas wouldn't come for Lola Jenkins' eight grandchildren.

When she unexpectedly gained guardianship of the children in late October, she was a 56-year-old college student living on disability checks.

The changes were quick and drastic. She needed housing and a host of essentials to care for the children, six boys and two girls ages 5 to 16. Then her church, community groups and individuals came to the rescue. "We've got Christmas gifts going out the front door," she said last week.

On Oct. 25, Jenkins got a call from the children's aunt saying they were being removed from their mother's Oxnard home by Ventura County authorities. Unless a family member could take them, they could be split up into as many as four or five foster homes, she was told.

"I had refused to see them go into foster care," Jenkins said. "I just couldn't do it."

She was renting a room from a fellow church member, but there wasn't enough space for a family of nine. She was able to move into the five-bedroom home where her daughter and the children had been living and receive Section 8 housing assistance. But the home needed repairs, which she had to pay for.

After word about her predicament was publicized in the newsletter at St. Paul Baptist Church in Oxnard, where she attends services, donations started coming: two refrigerators, a washer and dryer, beds, computers, toys, clothes, furniture and other items.

Fellow church member Rene Stewart delivered two baskets full of goodies the week before Christmas, and donated toys were already piled under the Christmas tree.

On Wednesday, there was evidence of an abundant Christmas at the Jenkins home. Gifts covered nearly the entire living room floor: a doll house, games, clothes, a giant stuffed dog and dozens of other gifts seemed to burst from underneath the Christmas tree. One child played a video game, while a keyboard and drums sat ready for action in the family room. In the garage sat a minivan donated to the family by a local business whose owners asked to remain anonymous.

Community groups including ACTION, Catholic Charities, Children and Families and others pitched in. The California Highway Patrol donated a basketball hoop. Eight donated stockings were hung on the mantel.

"There's so many places, I can't start to name them all," Jenkins said.

Stewart said Jenkins had only a small car and had been unable to safely transport all of the children at once. Church members had volunteered to help drive the family to church.

Stewart learned about Jenkins' situation during a church class. "She just burst into tears," Stewart said. "She said, I just don't know what to do.'"

Stewart's friend Al Jones, branch services manager at First California Bank, set up a trust fund for the children, starting with $100. Donations can be made in the name of Lola Wimberly Jenkins at any branch.

Jenkins said the children's mother — her daughter — moved elsewhere in California. For now, Jenkins plans to care for the children indefinitely. "I'm thinking about their futures," she said. "I've got one ready to graduate. I'm thinking about prom."

Jenkins said she had enrolled at Oxnard College to set a good example for her grandchildren, "to give my grandkids the incentive to want to finish high school, finish college." She had finished a child care program and was set to earn her associate degree next year.

She's dropped out of classes for now but plans to enroll again at Oxnard College in the spring, she said. She hopes things will be more settled by then. Her plan is to transfer to CSU Channel Islands in the fall to work on a bachelor's degree to become a resource specialist for children with special needs.

The Rev. Broderick Huggins of St. Paul Baptist Church described Jenkins as "a sweetheart" and "faithful."

"Anytime someone in their 50s is not content with living from hand to mouth and settling for mediocrity, that's the kind of person you can get behind," he said.

"Whatever the community does for her, from my perspective, would be an investment not only in her future but in the future of those children."


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