Becoming an adult and transitioning out of the security of a residential care program or foster care is a daunting challenge for many of the youth we serve. Now imagine you’re just getting started in your new life as an adult and your job is yanked away from you due to the COVID-19 crisis and you’re looking ahead to a frightening and uncertain future where too many things are out of your control.
Fortunately for the 18 young adults living in an apartment together as part of our Youth Moving On (YMO) program, they have a safety net in Hillsides and other community partners who want to provide some measure of security during this scary time. The pandemic forced YMO staff to temporarily close the Peer Resource drop-in center and move workforce development resources online but it was the youth living in the apartment complex who were most at risk for slipping through the cracks due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has been devastating for many of the youth. All but one lost their jobs and the one who kept her job at Starbucks puts herself at risk of contracting the virus every time she goes to work. When the crisis struck, Hillsides staff immediately pivoted to ensure the safety of the youth living at the Pasadena apartment complex by diverting resources to cover their rent and provide a $50 per week budget for groceries and necessities. Hillsides Peer Partner Housing Liaison Dennys Valle also lives in the apartment complex as the lone representative of Hillsides and has served as the main protector for the young adults as Hillsides staff asked them to shelter in place and avoid exposing themselves to unneeded risk.
Thankfully, Hillsides received a $500 donation from the Los Angeles Host Lions Club in San Marino to help with groceries and essentials for the youth because they “became aware of the greater need due to the pandemic, and thought we could do more,” said club president Ralph Mendoza. “As we continue to deal with COVID-19, it is important that we work together, that our children are provided as much support as possible, and that we keep a positive attitude. The L.A. Host Lions Club is confident that if we all work together, we will overcome these hardships and become stronger because of these challenges.”
This also meant that Dennys became a personal shopper to all 18 youth. In order to get the $50 weekly allowance, the youth had to let Dennys do the shopping for them and gave him grocery lists. Many of them did not know how to cook and barely knew what to ask for and that’s where Dennys would step in and help fill in the blanks for them and ensure that they could scrape by for the week with basic essentials.
Dennys knew his way around a grocery store but has become so much better at shopping for the youth as the weeks have gone on due to trial and error. “I’m getting better at this for sure,” he said. “What’s going to last longest, what can you do with the food to spread it out. And what’s going to be nutritious. These are all things I think about.”
Dennys carved out one day a week in his work schedule to do the shopping and because he wants to ensure that he doesn’t forget anything, he’s gotten in the habit of shopping for one youth at a time, which can be very time consuming and complicated to keep track of. Several stores and drug stores are on his route and he’s constantly navigating around the challenge of things the youth want not being available, particularly at the beginning of the crisis when people were panic buying. He’s seen fights in the aisles and he’s waited outside a store for 30 minutes in very hot temperatures but he’s doing what he must to make sure the youth under his care are taken care of, particularly as they become more antsy and bored as time goes on.
“The youth are a little more anxious right now,” Dennys said. “They want everything to reopen. They don’t want to rely on the program as much. They’re bored but they’re dealing with the virus and they understand the need to be safe.”
The youth are very appreciative of his efforts, he said. “Everytime that they see me and they see the van, they know that I’m there and they’re excited to see that. When I drop off the food they’re very grateful. And I feel grateful. I feel motivated and that I’m getting to know them even more. I actually get to see them and be a support for them. It’s rewarding.”
Also grateful is Dennys’ boss Correnda Perkins, the Division Chief for Community-Based Services. “Everyone at YMO is so appreciative of Dennys and what he has done over the past two months for our residents,” Correnda said. “He is the eyes, the ears and the voice for this program. Not only has Dennys provided support around keeping our young adults safe by running daily errands but he is also helping them cope with their mental health symptoms. We are also so thankful for the generosity of our community partners, like the LA Lions Club, whose donations have helped us to buy groceries and cleaning supplies for our young adults and cover cell phone bills so we can maintain our virtual mental health services.”