Community celebrates Koinonia expansion

Career Center was ‘missing element’ for foster youth
By: Kathryn Palmer Of The Lincoln News Messenger
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So many visitors were recently packed into Koinonia’s newly-renovated career center that the sound registered 90 decibels on a friend’s meter, according to Koinonia Homes for Teens and Treatment Clinic director Bill Ryland. Anything above 85 decibels can damage hearing.


An audibly-excited group of more than 50 donors, community members, politicians and foster youth gathered at the new career center off Oak Tree Lane in Loomis Jan. 23 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. They celebrated the transformation of an old barn into a space devoted to providing foster youth a space to explore their interests and future careers.


Teachers, volunteers and tradespeople will use the center to introduce the youth to a wide variety of possibilities.

“It’s a missing element for our foster youth,” Ryland said. “One of the plights they suffer is that they don’t have role models that give them direction and hope.”


Koinonia Family Services, headquartered in Loomis, is a state-licensed nonprofit organization that offers numerous services for at-risk youth. This includes adoption services, outpatient services, substance abuse treatment and foster care. The organization, now in its 37th year, operates in 22 cities across California and Nevada. Along with its headquarters, Loomis is also home to Koinonia Homes for Teens, which provides services for abused and delinquent adolescents. The program provides five short-term residential therapeutic homes in Placer County. Three homes are for boys and two are for girls, caring for a total of 48 teens at a time. The highly-structured program also offers a licensed drug treatment clinic and an accredited one-room high school that helps each teen reach their individual goals and graduate.


The career center is the newest addition to the teen program’s Loomis facilities. The renovation was funded entirely by grants and in-kind donations, which Ryland estimates tallied more than $200,000. Principal Financial Group was introduced to the project through United Way and donated $134,000 for construction. “Principal Financial Group presented the opportunity to rehab this building,” Ryland said, addressing the packed house at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “There are so few brick-and-mortar grants out there and they made the opportunity available to do this kind of hands-on work.” Jill Brown of Principal Financial Group said her organization gives grants to nonprofit organizations to help individuals build financial literacy and they were especially interested in investing in foster youth. Other sponsors and partners include JJ Flooring, MTA Inspired Spaces, Ticket to Dream, Dress to Soar and Kodiak Roofing.


Ryland said the center will act as a kind of workshop, allowing youth to try their hand at everything from digital media and coding to welding and construction. Now that the physical space is created, Ryland said, they are looking at bringing in community members and career representatives to share their trades and expertise with foster youth. This will include frank discussions about what the volunteers both enjoy and dislike about their jobs. “Commonly, when you have a second- or third-generation welfare kid, they’ve never seen anybody go to work and come back with a paycheck,” Ryland said. “It’s a foreign concept so it’s difficult for them to develop their own plans for the future.”


Hope for the future amidst healing and recovery


However, the center is on the tail end of the recovery and healing process most of Koinonia’s foster youth go through. For these teens to have hopes and dreams for their futures and fully take advantage of the opportunities the center will provide, Ryland said they first need to heal. “We get kids that flinch everytime we walk by. How do you heal that?” Ryland said. For many of them, Ryland said reaching either sustained sobriety or a level of healing takes months and it is oftentimes a highly difficult process.


“Most of our kids want to grow up to be a social worker or a probation officer, because those are usually the only two people in their worlds that have jobs,” Ryland said. Two teens at the career center ribbon-cutting were Leilani, 16, and Erika, 17. Both recently celebrated their three-month mark with Koinonia, an experience they both said has had tremendous impact on their lives and on how they think about their futures.


“For me, being here has changed my mindset,” Leilani said. “When I got here, this place showed me what support really means and what family really means.” Erika, a high school senior, said she wants to become an RN and is looking forward to using the career center to research what steps she needs to take for that journey.


“This is all about recovery,” Bill said, addressing Leilani and Erika. “So why stay in recovery? You’ve got lots of reasons to use but what reasons do you have to not use? And that’s what dreams, hope and a future is for.”

Just a few months ago, Erika said she thought she would never graduate high school or go to college. Today, she’s counting down the days until she completes her high school degree and already has her sights on college.