Caregivers at the Sacramento Children’s Home on Sutterville Road in Sacramento have been scrambling in recent weeks to make sure that 20 foster boys in their residential program have enough time on computers and tablets to participate in online schooling and enjoy leisure time.
“Usually the boys would attend local community schools,” said Todd Koolakian, director of philanthropy. “However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the boys have been doing distanced learning in their home setting on campus. Our staff have been challenged to locate enough computers for schoolwork and adequate recreational equipment important for their social interactions and development.”
He is hoping readers of Book of Dreams will help the Sacramento Children’s Home raise as much as $12,000 to buy personal laptops for the older boys and tablets that could be used by the younger set for their schoolwork and leisure time.
In addition, the group could benefit greatly from refreshing the facility’s game room and recreation hall with leisure time equipment. They hope to procure video games, a pinball machine, basketballs, bean bag chairs and a subscription to entertainment service such as Netflix or Disney Plus.
In its residential program, the Children’s Home can take at any one time boys ranging in ages from 6 to 19. Each foster child has experienced some form of abuse, neglect or trauma in early childhood.
They receive intensive therapy from counselors, mental health and support professionals. The team works with them at their own pace to build back the skills they need to return to a traditional foster home or, upon adulthood, thrive on their own in the community.
Therapist Amanda Smith, the residential clinical program manager, said the program puts a major emphasis on providing “normative social experiences … to go to school, be a kid, go to the movies, amusement parks, mini-golf or the mall … Right now they are not doing any of that.”
“For holidays, normally we have a catered meal and invite all the family members for Christmas and New Year’s,” she said. “We’d take them to Tahoe on a trip through nature. With COVID not only are we not able to do that, we can’t have large gatherings and run the risk of taking them out.”
With COVID-19 limiting what they can do, staffers all try to share what’s there. In addition to not having enough computerized devices, there are only one or two game systems for 20 children to pass the time.
”In a not very normal world, we are trying to add as much normalcy in their lives,” she said.
Normalcy is a critical part of growing up without a family, said Miles Cooley, who lived at the Children’s Home for three years when he was a child.
“I can’t imagine what it is like for them right now,” he said. “It’s where I learned to do a jump shot.”
Cooley, born to a troubled 17-year-old mother in Sacramento, came home when he was 5 years old to find his mother dead from a drug overdose. He entered the Sacramento Children’s Home in 1983 after having been moved from one traditional foster home to another.
He was later adopted, went on to college, and graduated from UC Berkeley’s law school.
Today he is a partner in CMNTY Culture. It operates as a music producer and publisher and creates film content. He also serves as outside general counsel for Peace4Kids in South Central Los Angeles. A supporter of foster children causes, he was the keynote speaker at the Sacramento Children’s Home’s 150th anniversary celebration.
“Honestly, every foster kid in California should be given a laptop or a tablet to navigate all the different things they need to do,” Cooley said. “For all kids now, it is about having that competitive advantage. You shouldn’t have to wait for COVID for that … That should be on the priority list for every foster child.”
Much of the residential program’s funding comes from government sources, but it only covers needs considered basic, such as housing, clothing, food and limited amenities.
“Every year we depend on the generosity of many individuals and organizations in the community to support our programs and services,” said Koolakian, noting fundraising during the pandemic has been challenging.
“Any help that the readers of The Sacramento Bee can provide for our residential program would be greatly appreciated and will help ensure a meaningful holiday season.“
Smith asked some of the boys to say in their own words what would be first on their list of things to do with their own personal laptop or tablet. She quoted one 12-year-old as saying:
“If I got a new laptop I would want to play video games and listen to music. I also would like to use it for schoolwork because it is a lot easier … a lot faster. I would also like to watch YouTube and shop. ”
Helping foster youth at the Children’s Home is not just an investment in creating a normative experience, said Smith. It is also an investment in the future because the youths would get to take their computer devices with them when they leave.
“Once they turn 18 and are ready to leave the Children’s Home, they would take it with them out in the world,” she said. “It would allow them to access job searches, take college classes and stay in contact with family,” something not likely to happen without community financial support.