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Koinonia celebrates grant award

By: Elizabeth Speth Loomis News Correspondent
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Teens struggling with substance abuse and other issues will be eating healthier thanks to a grant to Koinonia Family Services. The Herbalife Family Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the distribution business, has donated $25,000 to Koinonia Family Services. The money will be used to remodel an aged kitchen in one of the organization’s group foster homes. “This is just the first installment,” said Marco Gonzales, company spokesman. “We are planning an ongoing presence here. We will be giving them grants just like this every year for education on meal planning, preparation, healthy shopping habits and physical education.” Koinonia, founded in Loomis in 1982, provides group foster care for about 60 teens a year in five Loomis-area facilities. In addition to counseling, adoption, family reunification and drug rehabilitation programs, Koinonia teaches its residents “life skills,” according to executive director Bill Ryland. On June 30, Ryland and his staff coordinated an open house to announce the Herbalife grant. During the event, foster home residents performed songs and dances, blended healthy shakes for visitors, and demonstrated Koinonia’s infamous “16-20 Program,” a series of calisthenics designed to be a low-level consequence for misbehavior. “It’s about healthy choices,” Ryland said. “The 16-20s are an alternative method of dealing with behavioral issues. It’s ultimately good for the kids, both mentally and physically.” Ryland said Koinonia also places foster children in private homes, but group care is for teens struggling with drug addiction. Koinonia funds a rehabilitation clinic for the students, along with on-site schooling and GED preparation and testing, in conjunction with the Placer County Office of Education. “There are a lot of rules here. It was hard to get used to at first,” said group home resident Tyler P., 17. (Koinonia does not release the last names of group home residents). “I’m from Sacramento, and believe me, it’s much different. But my life is so much better than it used to be.” Tyler said he abused methamphetamine until undergoing treatment here. “It was hectic, using all the time,” he said. He described his relationship with his family as “off and on.” Ulises C., also 17, came to a Koinonia group home from the Salinas area. “I was using marijuana, I was in and out of juvenile hall, and I wasn’t really going to school anymore,” he said. “I’m just happy not to be on my own anymore.” Seventeen-year-old Kelly N. credits Koinonia with rescuing him from a life of “doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have been doing,” and directing his attention toward the future. “I think I can attain my dreams,” he said, adding that he would like to study to be a pharmacist. Joy T., 16, originally from San Luis Obispo, also said Koinonia stresses rules and structure. “That part’s hard. But it’s allowed me to be a kid again. I’ve been a runaway, my dad is in prison. I wasn’t getting the support anywhere else,” she said. Joy also abused methamphetamine, she said, and is happy to be drug-free. “I still have triggers,” she said, “but I’m learning how to handle my feelings without drugs.” Gonzales said the Herbalife Family Foundation has established 63 programs like the one at Koinonia. Spread over 41 countries, they are all aimed at improving childhood nutrition. For more information on Koinonia Family Services visit kfh.org.