A home for the holidays is so important for foster kids
By RYAN WANG
For many, the holidays evoke childhood nostalgia. Families take time to pass on age-old customs, from lighting the menorah, wrapping gifts, shopping, looking at lights, or baking cookies.
In my case, I have always associated this time of year with Christmas at my grandparents’ house. As far back as I can remember, my family would pile into my grandparents’ guest rooms to spend Christmas together.
Every Christmas Eve, my grandmother and my mom would make pork tamales. In the evening, her house would fill up with distant relatives. After dinner, I would leave out cookies, milk, and a few carrots for the reindeer. I tossed and turned at night, wondering if I made it on Santa’s naughty or nice list. Maybe, if I were good, Santa would bring me the Lego Star Wars set I asked for that year. In the morning, there was always a neat bite out of the cookies and an empty glass of milk sitting on the counter, leaving no doubt that Santa had visited the night before. Then, my parents and grandparents would watch as I unwrapped my presents.
Many can relate to a similar childhood experience. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, the New Year, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Omisoka, this time of year conjures strong memories. The smells, foods, family, movies, faces, and traditions form a cohesive memory.
Whatever your family does during the holidays, look around and be grateful. Spending time with family is a privilege not afforded to more than 500 foster children in Merced County.
Children end up in foster care for various reasons, including abuse, neglect, parental drug use, parental incarceration, or a family crisis. Foster care is a temporary service with the end goal of reunifying a child with their parent or a family member. Unfortunately, for countless foster children, reunification is not achievable.
When reunification is ruled out, a child will be eligible for adoption. If this does not occur, the child will spend the rest of their time in foster care until they age out at 18. A grim reality numerous kids in Merced County must face.
Living in and out of foster homes is something few could imagine. This was the reality for 22-year-old Merced resident Katrina Trinka. Her mother was addicted to drugs, and her father was never in the picture. At six, Katrina was placed into foster care with her 10 siblings.
I sat down with Katrina to gain insight into what the Foster experience is like. We first met at Merced College, and I later conducted an interview with her. When I met Katrina, she was surrounded by friends. They were laughing and talking outside the student union building. It was evident that she was loved by many.
When I asked who I could interview for my article, all Katrina’s friends nominated her. She was shy at first, reluctant to talk to me. When she learned that her story might help other foster children like herself, she began to open up.
Besides her calm, genuine, and caring demeanor, what you first notice about her is her smile. After getting to know Katrina better, it was apparent why she was surrounded by so many friends that loved her.
Katrina had been in and out of foster care since she was 6. At age 8, she was again placed into a group home with her twin brother. That year she spent her first Christmas away from home. “That Christmas was the first year that we didn’t see Santa,” she said. “Our group home mom told us, ‘Santa is not real, don’t expect presents.’ It was heartbreaking, but it was how it was. They couldn’t get us all presents. They didn’t have funds. At least they were honest with us. But that was the first year I knew Santa wasn’t real.”
At 11, Katrina remembers receiving body wash and shampoo for Christmas. She recalls eating the same food they had every week, disappointed there was not a special dinner. Despite this, what she most vividly remembers is being grateful. She still had her twin brother, who she cherished. She had a mother too. Although her mother never answered when she called, Katrina knew she was out there, and they loved each other. She felt terrible for the other children who did not have anyone to call mom and dad or brother and sister.
It’s striking that an 11-year-old felt grateful in her situation. A show of maturity, perspective, and humility. While others spend the holiday contemplating what they want, Katrina had been contemplating what she had. She recalled, “I was one of the lucky ones to have my brother with me there. Others had it worse.”
Katrina was in and out of foster care, occasionally living with her mom when it was deemed safe. This changed when her mother passed away from a drug overdose when Katrina was 14. She and a few of her siblings moved to Denver with her grandfather, where she lived until she was old enough to move out.
Katrina now lives in Merced and works for Merced College’s NextUp program, where she helps former foster youth like herself access programs that encourage enrollment, retention, and aid in everyday expenses. She is also a student at Merced College, where she studies cellular and molecular engineering. She plans to transfer to UC Davis next year.
Katrina has built a family of her own. She is married to her wife, Elaine, and together they have a four-year-old daughter named Eliza. When she is not working and going to school, she is spending time with her family. Although her childhood Christmases were gloomy and spent away from home and family. Katrina ensures her daughter never has to endure the same thing.
“She believes in Santa. She believes in the tooth fairy.” Katrina said, “She will believe in whatever she wants to. We’ll keep it going as long as we can.” When asked what traditions she is starting for her own family, Katrina responded, “We make cookies and leave them out for Santa and a few carrots for his reindeer. We also watch all the Harry Potter movies. We start eight days before Christmas and try to get all of them done so that we watch the last one on Christmas Eve. We’ve been doing that since Eliza was born.”
Katrina’s story is just one among many. Merced County is home to more than 500 foster kids who are deserving of a safe and comfortable place to call home.
There are countless reasons why a child might need a foster parent. Some are looking for a welcoming place to live during the reunification process with the family. Others do not have a family and are looking for a permanent home.
Merced desperately needs high-quality foster parents who are loving people with big hearts. The county is always searching for benevolent people willing to open their homes to the most vulnerable children in the area.
Consider fostering if you have a home or family that can afford to get a little bigger. Those that are interested in becoming a resource family in Merced County visit the home page of Merced Cares for Kids online at: mercedcaresforkids.com, or call (209)-354-2560