Tidings for Teens held its annual shopping event for foster youth Sunday, for the first time as a nonprofit organization.
“Their mission is so inspiring,” said Joelle Danahy, who helped the organization become a nonprofit.
Tidings for Teens was founded in 2014 by Kelly Meena, and Tammey, Jessica and Kaylin Mai. Their goal remains the same – to give the foster youth the tools to succeed through clothes.
Just before some of the foster youth’s first day of school, they were given $100 to shop at Old Navy for clothes.
There were 180 foster youth, with 30 being transitional foster youth (18 years old and older), selected to participate in the event. The Department of Children and Family Services selects the foster youth who get to attend based on those who are in need of it most.
Meena and the Mai family raised roughly $9,000 for this event and Augusta Financial matched the amount, dollar for dollar.
To prepare for the event, Meena and the Mai family worked all summer organizing and raising funds.
“It’s a lot of stress, anxiety, but mostly…” said Jessica.
“It’s humbling and (we’re) grateful for how well our community just wants to pitch in,” added Kaylin.
The Mai family estimates that there were 50 volunteers at the shopping event. The volunteers included Bay Center Foods employees, cheerleaders, members of the community and even a Star Wars stormtrooper.
“Our team members want to always give back to their communities because they’re so fortunate of where they are,” said Angie Martin of Bay Center Foods.
Bay Center Foods also provided each one of the foster youths with a backpack filled with school supplies.
In addition to this year being their first as a nonprofit, this was also Tidings for Teens’ first year having foster youth from the Antelope Valley attend.
To get to Old Navy from the Antelope Valley, it takes roughly 55 minutes, according to Google Maps. However, all of the volunteers for the event worked together and provided their own transportation for these children to ensure that every kid selected was able to attend.
“We did not want anyone missing out,” said Michelle Penez, assistant regional administrator at the DCFS Palmdale office.
Each foster youth was paired with a volunteer “shopping buddy” for their shopping experience, if their foster family or other guardian were not able to attend. Volunteers helped the children pick out appropriate clothing for school and guided them toward building a complete back-to-school wardrobe.
Emma Hamilton, a cheerleader from West Ranch High School, was paired with a 6-year-old boy. Hamilton said the boy was ecstatic to be able to not only pick out a Minecraft shirt for himself, but also be able to purchase it.
“It made me so happy,” said Hamilton.
The clothes these kids purchased that day gave them the opportunity to wear something new going into a new school year and meet workplace dress codes.
Kayden Toribio’s first day of fourth grade was the day after the event and a smile never left his face as he expressed his gratitude for Tidings for Teens.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Toribio. “It makes me so proud and I’m so thankful that they give us $100 each. I don’t know how they got all that money, but they probably worked hard for it. I’ll be looking good. I’m thankful for everything people give me.”
Desiree Carrillo was one of the 30 transitional foster youth at the shopping event. Since aging out of the system, Carillo is now primarily responsible for her own financial support.
“Most of that I just do on my own,” said Carillo.
Carrillo said that what she had picked out to purchase were primarily pants appropriate for work and clothes to run errands in.
“It feels like they care,” said Carrillo, “that they want us to have the best possible outcome from this.”
The shopping spree that Tidings for Teens provides these children is memorable and special, but not just for the foster youth.
“For me, this is a one-of-a-kind experience,” said AB 12 children social worker Anthony Murachanian. “I’ve never been to Old Navy with one of my youth and been able to chat with them while they’re shopping or support them while they do that.”
These clothes offer support in many ways beyond just covering these children’s bodies. They are for their confidence, peace of mind, fueling their excitement and helping the foster parents provide for the children they have taken on as if they were their own.
When all seven of her biological children left home, Itaska Dheini found herself overcooking, over-shopping and slipping into “empty nest syndrome.” It was then that she decided to open up her home to those she felt needed it most.
“There are some kids that probably need me,” said Dheini about her initial thoughts of becoming a foster parent. “Let me go ahead and take the plunge. I’m so glad I did.”
Dheini has taken in many foster kids into her home. At one point, she had taken four foster children to her home.
“It’s more than just a bed to sleep in. It’s more than just a warm meal to eat,” said Dheini. “It’s about encapsulating that person and making them part of your family and letting them know that they’re safe, that they’re secure and they’re loved. It’s a very human thing.”
Dheini raises these children as if they are her own. Just like any other mother, she has moments where she struggles with what she has taken on.
“I’ve had some sleepless nights. I’ve had times where I just went in my room and cried, I call it a mommy timeout,” said Dheini. “I’ve had all those days, but the end result, when you can really impact a child’s life in such a positive way, it’s worth it.”
Dheini brought her 11-year-old foster son to the event. She plans on legally adopting him to permanently add him to her family, as long as he wants to be adopted, she said.
“There’s no difference really between your biological kids and a foster child that you accept in your home,” said Dheini.
Exiting Old Navy with brand new clothes, the foster youth were also given a Jersey Mikes sandwich, chips, water, their selection of ice cream from Augusta Financial and a brand-new backpack filled with school supplies.
“I’m hoping next year it’s gonna be even larger,” said Penez. “I’ll do everything and anything for our kids.”
For more information on how to volunteer, donate services or donate, email Tammey Mai at [email protected] or Michelle Penez at [email protected]. Penez is also available by phone at 213-905-8223.