Foster youth often experience isolation and loneliness during holidays, pandemic makes it worse
RIVERSIDE, Ca.— Riverside County social workers on Monday delivered holiday bags loaded with goodies and gifts to Anahi Reyes and 160 young adults who are preparing to leave foster care for independent living.
Outside her apartment, Anahi, 20, said youth in foster care can experience feelings of isolation during the holidays when celebrations center on family gatherings. This year, she said she thinks the pandemic has increased those feelings of isolation and loneliness even more.
“These gifts make us feel special,” said Anahi. She entered foster care at age 10, and has been in care for a decade. She smiled at the gift bag brimming with cookies, a knitted beanie, soft blanket, personal care products, gift cards and kits to decorate holiday items delivered by her social worker, Jacqueline Pintado. “These gifts show us the community cares.”
Anahi’s brother, Gerardo Reyes, 19, also felt the same way when he received his bag and said the gifts helped to brighten his mood.
Anahi and Gerardo are just two of hundreds of Riverside County youth you have chosen to participate in Extended Foster Care. Foster youth can choose to exit at 18, however the extended program helps young adults between age 18 and 21 learn life skills, including budgeting, job assistance and finding community resources. Anahi will be 21 early next year.
“She’s learning important life skills she can use and is going into the real world knowing what’s expected of her as an adult,” said Jaqueline Pintado, Anahi and Gerardo’s social worker.
Church groups and community organizations contributed to the gift bags, which traditionally have been shared at a sit-down holiday dinner.
“Helping these kids gives me great joy,” said Julia Gardner, who joined volunteers at Immanuel Lutheran Church, which paid for gift cards in the holiday bags. “This is what’s in my heart to do.”
Older youth and young adults in foster care overcome significant obstacles to successfully transition to adulthood, said Charity Douglas, assistant director of Children’s Services, a division of the county’s Department of Public Social Services.
“Support from our community and faith-based partners has helped our youth develop resiliency and know that they are loved and valued,” Douglas said.