Previous generations would watch shows like Happy Days or The Brady Bunch and get a peek at the modern suburban family with all their joys, sorrows, and loving interactions. Shows like Full House and Modern Family have kept the ideal alive. These shows illustrate prime examples of families living in happy homes, with silly setbacks that are usually righted with some loving advice by a parent that is totally supportive and understanding.
It’s a simple dynamic–a loving couple get married, work hard to have good jobs, buy a house, and raise their children into thriving human beings. This is the general path that is mentally laid out for all of us at some point, either by our parents, society, or media influence. Whether life goes that way or not, is a different story. There are a multitude of factors and choices that can lead to many different outcomes. Whatever route brought them into our world, once a child is born that child needs care.
What happens when a child is born into a dysfunctional family, one that isn’t at all harmonious or stable? While no one wants to accept such a bleak prospect for an infant, what if the parent that they are born to cannot even care for themselves properly? There is a system for saving such children–it is our nation’s foster system. Foster services create a nurturing environment for a child, when they need it most.
“He made it his mission to find a way to provide a little bit of normalcy and happiness to a child in an otherwise bleak situation.”
There are approximately 440,000 foster youth nationwide with more than 55,000 children in foster care in California alone. The stresses of being in the foster care system are innumerable. Constant moving, changing schools, meeting new friends, unfamiliar surroundings, all these things leave their mark on a young soul. Often, the children that require “temporary care” outside of their families’ home are not in the best of health mentally or physically when they are placed with a foster parent. Detrimental conditions can leave seen and unseen scars on children. Giving them a little bit of dignity and something to call their own can go a long way to help in healing.
Together We Rise founder, Danny Mendoza, was only 21 when he learned that his nine-year-old cousin was living in a car. When Danny ran into obstacles and limitations while trying to help due to his age, he decided he had to take matters into his own hands and launched Together We Rise. He made it his mission to find a way to provide a little bit of normalcy and happiness to a child in an otherwise bleak situation. Together We Rise is a nonprofit organization devoted to improving how children experience the foster care system in America. “Children in foster care are often neglected and overlooked so we are extremely grateful for our supporters who have created a movement to give back to the foster community. It’s important we come together to give these youth important resources they need to have a childhood they deserve. We collaborate with individuals, companies, and community partners to bring resources to foster youth and use service-learning activities to educate volunteers on issues surrounding the foster care system,” says Gianna Dahlia, Executive Director of Together We Rise. For over twelve years, Together We Rise and their supporters continue to positively impact the lives of those in foster care and have grown into a nationwide organization, serving thousands of youth in foster care across the United States.
Early on in their journey as an organization, Together We Rise realized that there were hundreds of local and national companies that wanted to give back and make a difference in the lives of youth in foster care. Even if someone could not foster or adopt a child in foster care, they knew that there were many individuals who would want to do something to support children who were going through challenging times. So, the idea of creating a variety of team-building programs for companies to participate in that ultimately benefited youth in foster care came to fruition. Corporations looking to participate will reach out to the organization and agree to sponsor a pre-determined number of items from the program list. Once coordinated with a team from Together We Rise, colleagues roll up their sleeves and work together to create the items that will benefit local foster children. Donor relations manager Steven Macias says, “Some of our major sponsors are Google and Facebook. The uber-busy staff really enjoy taking a moment to slow it down and work together, creating something that will ultimately bring joy to a child.”
One of the hardest things about foster care is the multiple moves that a child may endure. Foster children do not own many things. The transporting of their minimal possessions is usually done via a garbage bag. One of the main team-building projects is creating a “sweet case.” These are fun, uniquely decorated duffel bags that will help a child move their items inside of something special to them. Crafting sweet cases, building bikes, and skateboards are some of the team-building programs Together We Rise offers to corporations around the country. Thousands of essential, handcrafted items are made during these events. Once a program is complete, Together We Rise then connects with several local foster care agency partners to determine the greatest need and distribute the donations. They also work directly with county social workers, case managers, therapists, and law enforcement to supply donations to their clients as they are requested.
“Since 2008, Together We Rise programs have impacted the lives of over 300,000 youth in foster care across the United States.”
In the Brentwood area, local agency CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, is one of the organizations that has received the gift of sweet cases. Theirs came complete with a teddy bear, blanket, crayons, coloring book, and a hygiene kit. The CASA program is a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains, and supervises volunteers to work with children and youth who have experienced abuse and/or neglect and live in foster care in Contra Costa County. For the past 39 years, CASA volunteers have made a difference in the lives of thousands of kids in foster care. Children and youth who interact with a CASA volunteer are more likely to succeed in school and adjust to change, and half as likely to re-enter the foster care system. CASA has served 230 children in our area within the last year alone.