‘Twas the night before Christmas 2015 when Naomi, 17, was placed into foster care.
It wasn’t the first hardship she had endured. After losing her mother to leukemia, Naomi also had to weather the loss of her father when he walked out of her and her brother’s life.
The siblings were taken in by their grandmother for a short time, but due to their grandmother’s ill health, the pair couldn’t stay with her. They were separated; Naomi entered foster care and her brother was sent to California to live with their aunt.
In the wake of her loss and the separation from her brother, Naomi has made strides to rediscover herself and her identity, but she’s still a teenager and has a long road in front of her. When she turns 19 and “ages out” of the BC foster care system, she will face the financial burden of rent, education and self-management.
Sixty to seventy teenagers age out of government care every year in Surrey. The transition from foster care to independence can be overwhelming, and the lack of stability can push at-risk youth to dangerous extremes.
Naomi’s story was shared by SOS Children’s Village BC to raise awareness of the needs of at-risk youth, especially during the holiday season.
“At this time of the year, youth and the invisible homeless need the extra help,” said Douglas Dunn, executive director of SOS Children’s Village BC.
Since 2012, the society has collected gift cards during the Christmas season to help youth buy food, winter clothing and bus fare. Last year, they collected $6,000 in gift cards from local community members.
This year’s fundraiser is on now and will continue through to Jan. 2.
“We get a great response every year,” said Dunn. “People in Cloverdale have big hearts.”
Dunn said even homeless youth who have a couch to sleep on for the night often have to provide their own food. “Most often we get requests for grocery store gift cards,” he said. “The second biggest need is for gift cards from stores that sell work clothing, so that they have professional clothes for finding work.”
The gift cards will be given to the more than 30 youth who are a part of SOS Children’s Village BC’s Transition to Adulthood program. The program is for youth ages 16 to 24 who are in or have aged out of foster care, and it provides support to help them navigate the challenges of young adulthood.
Those in the Transition to Adulthood program work one-on-one with youth workers who help them build resumes, prepare for job interviews, apply for GED courses and post-secondary education, find scholarships and academic support, understand personal finances and learn life skills. They learn how to take care of themselves on a mental, physical and emotional level.
The program’s goal is to help youth like Naomi gain the skills and independence they will need to have healthy, meaningful lives, connect to their communities and achieve their goals.
SOS Children’s Village BC’s annual gift card drive gives former foster kids the ability to afford essentials, but it also gives a message of hope by making the holidays a little less difficult and lonely for Surrey’s at-risk youth.
To help, drop off or mail your gift cards to 302 – 14225 57 Ave, Surrey, BC, V3X 0H6.
For more information, call 604-574-2964 or contact Douglas Dunn (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kistie Singh (email@example.com). Gift cards to grocery stores, Guildford Mall and Walmart and bus passes are needed most. To give a cash donation, visit: www.sosbc.org/holidaychallengedonation.
Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect privacy.