Graduating foster kids deserve a strong start

By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist

The Shelby County Foster Parents Association is working early this year to make sure that eight of their graduating foster children are fully supported and prepared for their first step into their adult life this year.

“We have eight graduating fosters this year,” Amanda Manzanilla said. “Most have grown up in group homes, which is not an ideal way to grow up. We want to give them the resources they need to get a safe start on their own this year.”

That starts with volunteers pulling together to round up gifts and resources that they will need as they graduate at the end of the 2021 school year. It also ensures that they have all they need to start college in the fall. This goes beyond just the regular dorm needs but also prepares for what to do in emergency situations when they are on their own.

“We are so grateful to Midland for donating weather radios to each of the kids,” Manzanilla said. She went on to explain that kits will be gathered that will help these new adults manage when they get sick and need to take care of themselves too.

In addition to these resources, it’s the goal of the Foster Parent Association to also provide each student with luggage, dorm supplies and gift cards that they can use for other needs.

Many in the county have participated in the Christmas Angel program that the association organizes each year. It’s the vision of Manzanilla and those who work with her to expand that program to other holidays.

“We’d love to have enough sponsors through the year to get each child a little something each month as a reminder that they are cared for and loved,” Manzanilla said. Her hope is that eventually these are relationships that can be ongoing and turn into mentorships for the long run.

The Shelby County Foster Parent Association currently works in a building in the city of Columbiana. Part of the building, called “The Hangar,” serves as a well-organized storehouse that contains everything a child about to enter foster care would need. This helps not only the child but also the families taking them into their care.

The rest of the building is used for ongoing donations of gently loved clothes and toys that also help families provide for the foster children coming into their own care on and ongoing basis. Currently, they are also gathering Easter baskets for the children in foster care across the county.

If you would like to make donations of luggage, gift cards or other items for graduating seniors in the foster program, you can email info@shelbycountyfosterparents.org. Donations for the Hangar can also be dropped off on the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 21019 State Route 25, in Columbiana.