For the first time in nearly two years, social workers serving the Santa Clarita Valley and surrounding communities gathered for a community resource fair.
The fair is typically an annual event for the Department of Children and Family Services Santa Clarita and was only halted due to pandemic restrictions.
“So this is actually the first time our community, churches, our staff are together in person and (get to be) connected again,” said Michelle Penez, children’s services administrator with DCFS Santa Clarita. “Once our social workers know what services and programs are out there, then they’ll be able to better serve our families and foster youth.”
Held in partnership with LoveSCV, a local organization that works to connect the needs of the community to its available resources, the resource fair was both a way to connect local social workers with local organizations, but also as a thank you for their hard work through the pandemic.
“Michelle has been trying for two years to do a thank you event for the DCFS staff, and if anything, their work has gotten so much harder (through) the pandemic,” said Susan Christopher, executive director of LoveSCV. “So, it’s been so awesome to have organizations stepping up to cover lunch.”
After grabbing lunch, attendees were able to visit the more than 60 booths hosted by various local community organizations, including local churches, nonprofits and LGBTQ organizations, among others, to hear about the resources available to foster youth and families.
“Our foster youth need help, so this is just the best way to make sure that we learn about what’s available now that everything has changed because of the pandemic,” Penez added. “It takes a whole village to care for our kids, especially now, and this is our village.”
“These are all free resources that are offered,” added Christopher. “Families, no matter what side of the fostering situations they’re on, they’re in need of help with resources — it’s a lot — and these agencies are all here to serve. … To have everybody working together to make sure that our kids are cared for is pretty remarkable.”
Among the resources tabling at the event was Fostering UNITY, an organization that works to support caregivers across Los Angeles County.
“We feel like supporting caregivers and giving them the recognition that they need and the support that they don’t really get anywhere else will help them be better caregivers, in the long run bettering the lives of foster kids,” said Arryn Baker, a care service specialist.
All of Fostering UNITY’s care service specialists are caregivers themselves, including Baker, who has four foster youth at home.
“We’ve been through it, we know how to support them and we can get them connected to a lot of the resources that they may not know about otherwise,” Baker added.
The Acton-based organization was established in the midst of the pandemic, which makes attending Tuesday’s event all the more important for them.
“It allowed us to be part of a lot more meetings that we normally wouldn’t have been able to attend because everything was on Zoom, but it also limited us being able to get the word out,” Baker said. “So being able to just get the word out and talk to people in person instead of having everything virtual, it’s just a totally different connection.”
It’s through assistance from the SCV community that Christopher said DCFS Santa Clarita has been successful in serving foster youth thus far.
“I think you’d hear a similar story across the board for most of the agencies that are here, which is when you’re serving people who are at risk and in need, the pandemic has done nothing, if not increase our workload,” Christopher said, “but what’s amazing is that Santa Clarita has stepped (up) so beautifully.”
DCFS Santa Clarita and LoveSCV will be collecting donations for their Thanksgiving Food Drive to help provide 300 meals to foster youth and families this holiday season Nov. 1-13. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/dcfsthanksgiving.