CVIndependent

Mon06252018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

When children turn 18 and age out of the foster-care system, they face a difficult transition into adulthood: Not only do some of these young people lack a family; they also lack the skills to live on their own.

For LGBT youth in foster care, it’s even harder. That’s where Sanctuary Palm Springs comes in: Sanctuary is working toward providing a home with support services to LGBT youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who leave the foster-care system.

Sanctuary was founded by David Rothmiller and LD Thompson. Rothmiller explained how they started down the path of creating Sanctuary.

“Originally, it was the desire to be a parent,” Rothmiller said. “… My spouse, LD, and I had begun with the intentions of starting a family. We were licensed (for foster children) in Washington state, and that system made us wait for two years for a placement in our own home. People asked me why that was the case, and I have no answers. The system is so broken. While that happened, we looked where else we could participate. We were told by someone about group care.”

Rothmiller mentioned that many LGBT individuals lose their families when they come out.

“LD was kicked out of his home at 17 and found family again in the LGBT community,” Rothmiller said. “That’s our model: They might have lost their family, but there’s a family already there that waits for them.”

Rothmiller explained the challenges LGBT youth face in the foster-care system.

“Depending on how long they’ve been in foster care, there is enormous psychological damage that we have to sort out,” Rothmiller said. “The reason (many of them) are in foster care is because they were gay to begin with. … Some of these Christian families kick their kids out because they find out they’re gay. In foster care, kids are afraid to come out, because many of the foster families are well-meaning Christian families, and it doesn’t fit their culture. If the kids come out or are found out to be gay, the foster parent can make a seven-day call to get them out. We’ve seen that happen many times. There’s no legal protection for them, and the more often a kid is bounced, the harder their life becomes. With each bounce, they lose six months of educational placement. LGBT kids are bounced more often.”

Originally, Rothmiller and Thompson planned for Sanctuary to provide a home for LGBT foster kids in the system. However, Riverside County put numerous hurdles in front of them.

“Riverside County’s foster care is currently under investigation,” Rothmiller said. “They are so messed up and can’t even maintain the claims of abuse and investigate them properly.”

Eventually, they decided to open a home for LGBT foster kids who were entering adulthood—to help with a problem that’s recently received state and federal attention.

“Sixty percent of kids leaving foster care at 18 would fall into the category of incarcerated, homeless, on the street, doing drugs, doing prostitution or dead,” Rothmiller said. “The state realized they were failing these kids. That’s why they created the new program, and that’s how we’re funded. It’s through San Bernardino (County), because Riverside (missed) the calendar date to be able to license homes such as ours. San Bernardino licensed us to operate in Riverside County.”

As of this writing, Sanctuary is open, but there are no residents yet, as Rothmiller, Thompson and their staff jump through hoops with licensing and getting the Palm Springs home up to code.

“LB and I are the founders of the program, but we don’t have any letters after our names. We had to bring in skilled professionals to have on our team,” Rothmiller said. “Even with that power behind us, these bureaucrats are like, ‘You need to do this, that and the other thing.’ In each case, our program manager had to tell them how to license us.

“On the positive side, the community has been very supportive. Our fundraising has been impressive for a start-up … and our staff is all-volunteer. Everyone who has donated their time or money, or comes to work with us, feels emotionally connected. People are seeing this as something they can do locally to stop that negativity toward LGBT rights and equality.”

Sanctuary will help teach youth the skills they will need in adulthood, and hopefully even inspire careers.

“Our independent living program is designed to teach them cooking skills, car skills, job-interview skills and being part of a larger system,” Rothmiller said. “Most of these kids coming into the program probably won’t even have a driver’s license, because no one cared enough to get them through that process. All of these things you have to know as an adult have been withheld from them.

“If a kid wants to learn culinary skills, there are chefs from restaurants all over town who have offered to be mentors. Pick anything a kid wants to learn—there are people in this community who want to share that with them.”

Rothmiller said Sanctuary has already helped one particular young man who aged out of the system and contacted them for help.

“He said, ‘I really want to come live at Sanctuary. I’m in foster care. I turned 18; I was kicked out of Safehouse, and I’m living in a men’s shelter in Indio and getting up at 5 in the morning to take a bus from Indio to Palm Springs High School, where I’m a senior,’” Rothmiller recalled. “I said, ‘Are you gay?’ and he said he wasn’t. I told him we will not discriminate against anyone, but that we were designed for the LGBT community. We met; we had a fundraiser coming up. He’s a great kid, and we wanted to do something for him. He came and helped the staff from Lulu do the catering. He fit in perfectly, and when we got up to do the remarks, I told his story and why the program matters so much. It was very emotional, and we said, ‘We need to find a home for him.’

“Fast forward to today. He lives with this kind man, and he has become family. We graduated him; he works at a deli; he goes to College of the Desert. That’s the potential we have. So many in the gay population thought we missed the boat to be parents, but there is more that we have to offer, and we want people in the community to know that it isn’t too late to (be a) parent or grandparent. We see ourselves as having that ability to facilitate.”

For more information or to offer assistance, visit www.sanctuarypalmsprings.org.

Published in Local Issues

I first met Shawn Kendrick back in 2008. We were both working at the Stagecoach Festival for Borders Books and Music; he was a general manager at the now-defunct company.

He showed me a photo of his family: Shawn is white; his husband, Gerald Raye, is black; and they’re the parents of six children.

Just another American family.

I recently caught up with Shawn, Gerald and their children at their home in Murrieta, about an hour and 15 minutes outside of Palm Springs.

I arrived shortly after 3 p.m. on a weekday; the kids had just come home from school and were each given the opportunity to pick something out of the “treasure chest,” a box containing various toys. Raye explained that he’s a seasoned bargain shopper at Walgreens, so he knows how to stock up on items to give them.

The kids are 15, 13, 9, 7 and 5. Their oldest son is 20 and now lives on his own.

Shawn Kendrick and Gerald Raye met two decades ago.

“We met through a personal ad in the Los Angeles Times,” Kendrick said. “The Internet wasn’t like it is now, and there weren’t really all these sites they have now. I had just moved here from Missouri. I was tired of hanging out in bars, and I wanted to settle down a bit, so I put an ad in the paper.”

Raye said he still has the ad that Kendrick placed.

“It was funny how I responded,” Raye said. “I was at work with my best friend, and we used to look in the paper at the ads, circle them, read them out loud to each other, and make fun of them. For that whole week, one ad kept appearing—so I took it and called it. We talked on the phone for two to three months before we actually met each other because of my job at the time.”

As they got to know each other, they learned they were both interested in having children.

“I’ve always wanted children, because I’m an only child,” Raye said. “Starting from the time I was 10 years old, I always said I was going to adopt children. The relationship I had prior to Shawn—we were always going to do it, but every time we went to start, he got cold feet. When I got together with Shawn, we talked about having kids, and he told me that he wanted to have kids, too. On our first-year anniversary, he gave me a card, and it had the foster-care application in it.”

They were living in Long Beach at the time, and they began the licensing process and the training classes, dealing with an agency that mostly worked with gay couples.

“We didn’t know how to start the adoption process, so I thought it’d be good to become foster parents and see how that works out,” Kendrick said. “We became foster parents a few months after that. A lot of people think you can’t do it if you’re gay, (and did) especially 20 years ago. California’s laws have always been very liberal, and they don’t look it as gay or lesbian. … California always let unmarried people do it, and there was never a question.

“It was way easier than we thought. In fact, it was harder when we first went to get our car loan.”

Kendrick and Raye are not wealthy by any means. Kendrick works for Fresh and Easy; Raye stays at home with the children—all of which have special needs.

“People think we’re different, and we’re not,” Kendrick said. “We struggle with our finances; when we sit together at the end of the month and try to figure stuff out, most of our disagreements are over money. With that being said, (the government) doesn’t want that to be the reason you don’t adopt children. When you adopt through the county in California, they’re going to do some things to help you. The children are eligible for Medi-Cal until they’re 21. … You’re also going to get a stipend. You can’t live on that, and you can’t get rich from it, but it sure helps to keep them clothed. They’re also eligible for a college grant.”

All of those factors make it much easier for them to be good parents.

“It allows us to have Gerald stay home,” Kendrick said. “When you have special-needs kids, you have to have someone stay at home. You can’t just parcel them out all over the place. They need the direction you get by having a parent at home. With special-needs kids, we determined we were going to have to make some sacrifices, and one of us would have to stay home. ”

Being an interracial gay couple with children of various races hasn’t always been easy. Raye remembered one frightening instance when he was shopping with his son Anthony, and the fact that their skin colors are different became an issue.

“I was in the dollar store, and he was in the cart with me. I’m shopping the whole store, and as we’re getting ready to leave, security grabs me at the register, and has me with my hands up and pinned against the wall, asking me, ‘What are you doing with this child?’ I’m screaming, ‘Why would I shop in a store this whole time and pay for stuff if I was stealing a child?’ They asked Anthony, ‘Who is this man?’ and he said, ‘That’s my dad.’”

Kendrick said there have been times when they’ve received dirty looks or looks of scorn from people while out in public. However, they’ve also earned a lot of people’s respect.

“People see that (as a gay couple), you’re not having big sex parties, and you’re not having a huge Sunday brunch in your backyard … (and) they see that your kids are the same as everyone else. They see that your kids get in trouble just like all the other kids, that you do homework with them every night, that you go to the school activities—and they see that you’re more normal than they think. We have straight families in our neighborhood who will drop their kids over here and ask Gerald to watch them. We know a husband and wife who are both Marines, and they went away for the weekend and left their daughter with us.”

The subject of race is discussed openly in the Kendrick-Raye household. They teach their children about it and expose them to different cultures.

“We teach that there is no better race than any other race—and that we are one race, all together, in this house,” Raye said. “During Black History Month, we’re all at the parade, and we’re front and center. If there’s a Latin parade, we’re front and center. Our children come from all different backgrounds, and we’re going to know all of them. If there’s a powwow at the Pechanga Casino, let’s all go, because there could be Native American in our bloodline somewhere.”

Published in Features

Sandra Austin doesn’t think fathers get the respect they deserve.

She tells a story about a man she knows whose significant other passed away. They had been raising six kids together—and four of them aren’t biologically his own. Nonetheless, he’s carrying on: He’s now a single father, and doing everything he can for those six kids.

“He stepped up,” Austin says. “That’s commendable. He needs support.”

That’s one reason why Austin—the co-founder of the Family Health and Support Network—has given the nonprofit organization’s annual Juneteenth in the Coachella Valley event the theme “Fatherhood: Dispel the Myth.”

The sixth-annual event, presented by Augustine Casino, takes place on Saturday, June 15, at the La Quinta Resort. The celebration of African-American culture and heritage is a benefit for the Family Health and Support Network’s foster-care program. Performers include gospel/soul singer Gina Carey, and headlining singer L. Young. E.M. Abdulmumin, the founder of the DuBois Institute and the developer of Riverside County’s Building Resilience in African-American Families program, will offer the keynote address.

Every year, Juneteenth has had a different theme. However, Austin feels so strongly about the need to support good fathers that she says she may give the event a focus on fatherhood every year from now on.

“It’s really needed in our community,” she says.

While Juneteenth in the Coachella Valley focuses on African-American heritage—Austin says she’s been trying for years to “motivate” the valley’s black population to show off its culture—FHSN’s foster-care efforts involve the entire community. Frankly, the foster-care community needs all the support it can get, especially here in the Coachella Valley.

FHSN has contracts with Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties to place children who need foster care. Austin says FHSN—which she co-founded a decade ago—currently works with around 38 foster homes, and about 10 of those are in the Coachella Valley.

That’s not nearly enough.

“We’re one of the very few agencies physically located in the Coachella Valley, so we often get the calls (for Coachella Valley kids needing foster homes) first,” Austin says.

More than half of the time, when FHSN receives a call about a foster child needing placement, FHSN has to say no, Austin says: There aren’t enough qualified foster homes in the valley. That means those children get placed by other agencies in homes that are farther away from the area those kids know.

“Our primary goal is to put out the plea for foster parents,” Austin says. “… Maybe it’s because we have the reputation for being a resort town or whatever; there wasn’t much awareness. Some people didn’t even know they receive financial assistance (when they take in a foster child).”

So this year’s Juneteenth celebration has multiple goals, according to Sandra Austin. It’s a fundraiser for the foster-care program; it’s an event to honor African-American culture; and it’s an opportunity to give the community’s good, caring fathers a much-needed shout-out.

“That’s been my focus, that people will become aware that there is an African-American community here. And there’s a need for foster parents. And there’s a need for elders—African-American (and other) men to work with the youth population,” she says.

Juneteenth in the Coachella Valley, presented by Augustine Casino, takes place on Saturday, June 15, at the La Quinta Resort and Club, 49499 Eisenhower Drive in La Quinta. The theme for this year’s event, a benefit for the Family Health and Support Network, is “Fatherhood: Dispel the Myth.” The evening begins at 6 p.m. with a VIP reception, and is followed by dinner, performances, the keynote and the Pioneer Awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Guests are encouraged to wear “smart casual white.” Tickets are $60 for general admission, and $50 for FHSN foster parents; VIP tickets are sold out. For more information or to buy tickets, call 760-340-2442, or visit www.juneteenthcv.com. For more information on the Family Health and Support Network, visit www.fhsnet.org.

Published in Local Fun