Tags: Featured Story
How One Non-Profit is Making a Difference for Foster Children With Volunteers Like You
|Allison McClain's vision for a sustainable way to help children experiencing life in foster care in Kern County would not be possible without the support of her board. The organization now includes 12 women who carry out case management and administrative work to better serve those in need. Their commitment to helping provide resources is in turn made possible by the community.
(From L to R)
Bakersfield Angels Case Manager Kristen Cabalka, Director of Programs Denise Reynen, President Allison McClain and Case Manager Jenn Young gather around a Love Box destined to help a young person in Kern County.|
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Foster care is an important aspect of social services that sometimes leads to adoption but often does not. Not every family can foster or adopt but supporting children in need is something every person can do in their own way. Time, resources, and encouragement matter, too.
Community leaders, social scientists and educators agree: one caring adult can make a difference in the life of a child. Bakersfield Angels is dedicated to improving quality of life for children in foster care and those who have recently aged out of it, as well as supporting the families who care for those in need. A local chapter of the non-profit organization National Angels, Bakersfield Angels, serves as a grassroots partner for the Kern County Department of Human Services. Allison McClain, president and chapter founder, has proven that one person’s commitment to making a difference can inspire others to join a cause, lead a change and make that lasting change in young people’s lives.
McClain’s background is not in social work or education. She studied agrifinance at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, before moving to Bakersfield with her husband in 2002 to operate a dairy farm. They are the parents of four older children. Speaking at women’s events and volunteering were already part of McClain’s life, but her focus turned to foster care after hearing a podcast that recapped current statistics on issues related to children who leave the foster care system only to find themselves with little support and few options.
According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, 66% of foster children will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving the foster care system at age 18. It’s estimated that as much as 80% of the prison population has been in the foster care system and 40% of people experiencing homelessness are former foster children. More than 70% of women who aged out of foster care will be pregnant by age 21. Abuse and instability, transfers to other homes with varying rules and routines, and uncertainty about the future contribute to the post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that children in foster care experience at twice the rate of combat veterans. Potential is curbed through no fault of their own; foster children are half as likely to graduate from high school as their peers in traditional homes and only 20% will attend college. Neglect is the leading cause for social service intervention, while 34% of foster children are removed from their homes due to parental drug use, and approximately 12% are temporarily relocated due to abuse.
McClain recognized the potential for helping solve multiple issues in both broader society and for the individuals themselves: the children living in foster care who lack resources during their placement periods, but also after. More than 2,000 children are in foster care in Kern County, but that number is expected to increase due to economic conditions and deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A 12-person board now oversees what McClain started, with corporate and community partnerships to further the work of helping mitigate issues related to foster care.
Bakersfield Angels works primarily through two organizational methods: The Dare to Dream Program and the Love Box Program. Mentorship for ages 15 to 22 is the focus of the Dare to Dream Program. Volunteers offer friendship, resources, and encouragement for students at this pivotal life phase. Milestones like getting a driver’s license, creating healthy habits, learning life skills, building healthy relationships, and making post-graduate plans are all areas in which mentors can help. The Dare to Dream, Jr. Program for ages 11 to 14 also provides the opportunity for valuable guidance beginning at a younger age. The ultimate goal is to help young adults thrive, with a sustainable future, and to be there as adolescents make major life decisions.
The Love Box Program pairs foster families with volunteers who match based on compatibility and needs. They offer support through intentional giving that takes place through a variety of means including kind notes, groceries and meals, and other material resources like clothing, shoes, and cleaning supplies. Tutoring and enrichment may be what a family needs. Meeting the whole family’s needs helps provide normalcy and resilience.
All volunteers must meet pre-screening requirements, pass a background check and be willing to fulfill other criteria in order to participate.
Hear from mentors, get referral information and find out more at www.bakersfieldangels.org.
Q&A: Questions for Allison McClain, founder and president of Bakersfield Angels
Q. What is the mission of Bakersfield Angels?
A. The Bakersfield Angels mission is to walk alongside children in the foster care community, as well as their caregivers, by offering consistent support through intentional giving, relationship building and mentorship.
Q. As we look to the holiday season, how can our readers help support this important cause?
A. They can sign up to provide a Holiday Basket for a local foster family (baskets include family board game, gingerbread house kit, Christmas movie, sugar cookie mix, popcorn, holiday craft, gift card to Walmart or Target, etc.). They can also go to our website, www.bakersfieldangels.org, and sign up to volunteer for our two programs, Love Box and Dare to Dream, as well as sign up to be a monthly donor to sustain our programs for the long run.
Q. What do you wish our audience better understood about the children and families you serve?
A. I wish that people understood that children enter foster care through no fault of their own. They are a highly vulnerable population but evidence shows that trauma can be healed through healthy relationships. Foster parents are doing the hard and holy work of providing care to these kiddos and we have the opportunity to lighten their load by wrapping support and community around the entire family. Not everyone is called to foster, and not everyone is called to adopt, but EVERYONE can make a difference in the life of a child.