Many of us are making Halloween costumes or carving jack-o’-lanterns, which means the holiday season is here. But for kids with no parents, the holiday outlook is different.
“We have five group homes with 60 kids from ages 12 to 18 under our care right now. These kids have been taken from their families by Child Protective Services for abuse, neglect or if something else going on in the home is not good for the kids to be around. We try to do a traditional family meal and gift for each child to replace what they are losing,” said Angy Shearer, director of fund development for La Frontera/La Paloma Family Services.
The nonprofit has provided shelter, counseling, guidance and assistance to Arizona’s at-risk children since 1980.
Since merging with the behavioral health agency La Frontera Center in January 2012, it has been dedicated to building relationships and support services to encourage, teach and challenge children and families to take control of their lives.
La Frontera continues as the behavioral and social health component of the organization, offering services such as case management, counseling, employment services, low-income housing and suicide prevention, while La Paloma Family Services assists about 300 children daily through its foster care services.
“Everyone knows there are foster children out there, but there is a huge need in Pima County and many people aren’t aware of it,” Shearer said. “The number has jumped to about 14,000 in the system statewide, and many kids from Tucson have to go to Phoenix because we don’t have places for them. Any awareness we can raise to get people engaged is really important.”
Finding placement for teens is often particularly difficult, and local group homes are usually at capacity, she said.
“We have many kids in our group homes until they age out of the system. Some really prefer the group homes because they have been bounced around to different foster homes. They say, ‘I am over it. I just want to grow up and start my own life.’ It breaks my heart thinking about it,” Shearer said.
Local business owner Mark Jorbin is determined to bring cheer into the holidays for these youth and for children who have been placed in custody of family members — or “kinship” foster parents — who are in financial need.
“It is my belief that today, more than ever, there is this need that has really grown in our community. With all the pressures and financial shortfalls, people are more in need than ever before, and I think income levels have had a huge impact on people as far as substance abuse and addiction, and mental illness is more prevalent than ever before as well,” said Jorbin, who was born in Douglas but has lived most of his life in Tucson.
“This organization really seems to be doing good things for children and families within our community, and I want to support that.”
Jorbin opened Carte Blanche Catering 22 years ago and owns Café à la C’Art, which is hosting a fundraiser Saturday for La Paloma Family Services (see “If you go” box).
After sponsoring a holiday toy drive for the foster children last year that received a terrific response from customers, Jorbin said he felt it was his responsibility to do more.
“More people are becoming aware and getting involved. I think we have a long way to go, but people are recognizing the need, and more and more of them are opening their hearts and their wallets to help supplement the shortfalls for these organizations,” Jorbin said. “We are making some inroads as far as giving and helping, and that makes our community much stronger in the long run.”
Jorbin is looking forward to showcasing his creative cuisine and his expanded location at the historic Stevens/Duffield House at the Tucson Museum of Art during the fundraiser, called Cheers for Charity. In the process, he and Shearer hope to raise at least $5,000 to fill wish lists and provide meals for about 100 children.
“It should be a really nice afternoon of mingling and tasting wine and eating good food and listening to beautiful music — all to bring a little bit of cheer to kids who really need it,” Shearer said.