Former U.S. representative Patricia Schroder once said, “If you want to change the world, you change the world of a child.” These are words that ring true to the Bakersfield Angels organization.
The Bakersfield Angels organization’s goal is to “walk alongside children, youth and families in the foster care community by offering consistent support through intentional giving, relationship building and mentorship,” as stated under the organization’s website mission statement.
The organization falls under a national umbrella and vision.
“In December of 2018, I was listening to a podcast, and Susan Ramirez, the CEO of National Angels, was talking about statistics surrounding foster care,” Allison McClain said of her reasoning behind starting the local chapter.
A few of those statistics included:
• Only 50 percent of those who age out of care will obtain a high school diploma;
• 97 percent of children in foster care will not graduate from college despite, as wards of the state, receiving a full-ride scholarship to any state school;
• 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the foster care system;
• 50 percent of the homeless population has spent time in foster care; and
• 70 percent of young women in foster care will become pregnant by age 21
“I thought, ‘Why is nobody talking about this?’ Right here in Kern County, we have about 2,000 kids experiencing foster care,” added McClain. “So, that’s what I decided to do. Cast my little stone in the foster care waters and see how many ripples I could create.”
The Bakersfield Angels offer the Love Box and Dare to Dream programs, which help those within the local foster care community to succeed.
“This wrap-around support enables caregivers to continue to do the important and meaningful work of being foster parents,” McClain said of the Love Group program.
Love Box groups are matched with a local family based on their location, compatibility and scope of needs.
"When our families are matched with committed volunteers who show up monthly, parents feel supported and children gain a greater sense of normalcy, relational permanency and self-confidence,” said McClain.
As one of the first case managers for Bakersfield Angels, Jenn Young’s role has been to launch the Dare to Dream mentoring program, though she admits that she didn't know much about foster care prior to her current position.
“I’ve always understood the importance of having healthy, supportive people cheering me on throughout life. I am humbled and fortunate to be able to connect willing volunteers who have energy and time to give, with the youth in our community that desperately need someone to consistently show up for them,” Young said.
Love Box leaders and Dare to Dream mentors have an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of a local foster family or a youth experiencing foster care.
The idea of the Dare to Dream program is to walk alongside the youth as they navigate life's challenges with a variety of support, including wisdom, advice, encouragement and community that the mentors can assist with.
“My favorite part is actually having FUN with the kids doing activities together. I enjoy it as much as they do. Whether it's laser tag, bowling, or soccer at the park, doing an activity with the kids is rewarding to me,” said Brian Wind, as a volunteer for the organization.
Brian's wife, Sharla, has also been impressed by the family they support. The mother has faced her own share of challenges over the last year with COVID, caring for six school-aged children.
“She is an inspiration to us. Last month we all went bowling, and all of us had so much fun. We are terrible bowlers, but the kids were so encouraging and really cheered each other on and cheered us on too! We think they are great, great kids," said Sharla.
Kristen Cabalka, another case manager for the organization, hopes the community understands that the children and youth in foster care belong to all of us.
"Children who are unable to live with their biological parents deserve many healthy adults in their lives- healthy foster parents and healthy mentors,” said Cabalka.
The hope is for the youth to be engaged and feel supported and equipped to go through life. Mentors commit to meeting with the youth every other week to set goals and help them achieve their dreams.
While the organization ideally would like for the relationships built through the program to last a lifetime, volunteers only sign on for a yearlong commitment.
Mentors matched with a high school student are strongly encouraged to stay with the youth until high school graduation.
The organization doesn't want these statistics to be true of Kern County because of the 'every day, normal people' who step up and acknowledge that the community can do better.
“We know that relationships can heal trauma and that is the heart of our programs. We are already hearing the stories of real impact happening in these kids’ lives - improving grades, forming healthy attachments, landing jobs, joining extracurriculars, experiencing lots of firsts,” McClain added.
The foster care community is filled with both beauty and heartbreak, as described by the organization. Many families who open their home and desire to make a difference close their homes because it can be exhausting work. One thing to note is that the foster family plays a big role in the stability for the youth in their care.
“As a community, we can provide those connections for youth in foster care! Not everyone is called to foster or adopt, but anyone can make a difference in the life of a child,” added Cabalka.
For more information about the Bakersfield Angels chapter, those interested can visit their website at bakersfieldangels.org.