Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Bash for Foster Care Alumni

Holiday bash will help area foster kids
Rohrs, Sarah. Contra Costa Times, Dec. 10, 2009.

Kareena Blackmon, 21, of Vallejo was one of the lucky ones. After 14 years in foster care, she had a place to live and was college-bound when she was emancipated from the system.

But as they approach their 18th birthday, many teens about to age out of foster care face enormous hardships in finding work and housing, and in going to college, said Blackmon, a youth advocate for the county.

Teens in foster care who are 18 or older have needs all year, but they're pronounced during holidays, said Blackmon and volunteers who help foster children.

"I want people to just be aware and try to help them to get into housing programs, employ them and get them enrolled in college," Blackmon said.

To help brighten their holidays, two agencies have teamed up to throw a Holiday Bash, 4 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the American Canyon Community Center, 477 Canyon Creek Dr.

Donations are being sought to put on the bash and give each teen a gift for Christmas. At least 150 teens are expected.

"This is just a holiday Christmas party for this population that is usually forgotten about," said Cynthia Grady of New Beginnings Supportive Services.

New Beginnings is staging the event with Alternative Family Services Solano Independent Living Skills Program, which contracts with Solano County to help teens make the transition to adulthood.

"There is a great need, especially during the holidays," Living Skills Program Assistant Program Director Ella Bell said. "Without their biological families, they feel distant and withdrawn. We try to pull our resources together so that we can provide them with gifts and help them feel part of the community," she added.

New Beginnings helps numerous young adults with food, diapers for their babies, formula, bus passes, clothing and other items. Efforts are also under way to open a transitional housing center for them.

Too often, Grady said, these young adults face homelessness and poverty when they leave foster care.

Further, nearly half the youth surveyed do not complete high school, nearly one-third have spent at least one night homeless, and about one-fourth sell drugs to support themselves, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation Survey of former foster care youth.

Blackmon said she's faced continuous challenges in the three years since she left foster care, including the need to suspend her college plans due to lack of transportation. She is also now guardian of her 18-year-old sister.

People can help with the Holiday Bash by making a cash contribution, donating gift cards, and providing household and clothing items, such as warm blankets, bed sheets and towels, Grady said.

For more details, please contact Grady at (707) 655-6064.

Donations also can be made through Independent Living Skills Program, 100 Corporate Place, Suite A, Vallejo or by calling (707) 648-2000.

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