SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's a startling number -- about 22% of San Francisco's unhoused population were once in the foster care system, according to a city report. That's what makes the work of the Edgewood Kinship Program so critical as it celebrates 30 years. The program gives family members stepping up to prevent a relative from going into the foster care system the tools they need to be successful.
The Edgewood Kinship Program has been a lifeline for caregivers like Debra Johnson-Hall, a retired Sam Francisco teacher, who has taken on the roll of "mama-nanna" to her grandchildren Dereksteve and Dreama.
"I'm doing a dual role. I'm the mama and I'm the grandma," Johnson-Hall explains. She took over caring for her grandchildren several years ago when her daughter Rebecca, battling mental illness, became unable to care for them. "I don't want them to feel a void of not having their mother," she said. "We got to pray for your mom, she's still your mom," Johnson-Hall reassures the children.
Johnson-Hall credits the Edgewood Kinship Network as the pivotal support system that has helped her navigate through her caregiving journey. "It has proven to be like the glue that holds me," she said.
Cynthia Green, who has witnessed the program's transformative effects over her 21-year tenure at Edgewood, highlights the program's role: "It's a program where family members step up to help kids who are not able to stay with their parents for various reasons. Sometimes parents get sick, sometimes they pass away. Sometimes they struggle with substance abuse, and mental health issues."
Green told ABC7 News three-fourths of kids referred to the Kinship Program by the San Francisco Human Services Agency remain in a home with a relative and out of the foster care system.
The program offers those families food assistance, therapy, support groups, and even caregivers to step in when those families need a break.
Alicia Duque, who now works to brighten children's lives as a youth activities coordinator, has a personal experience with the Kinship Program from when she was a child.
"I want to do the same thing for others that was done for me when I was younger. They changed my life, you know?"
Her family benefited from the Kinship care services when she was younger, when her aunt and uncle stepped in to take care of her and her five sisters when her mom went through a tough time.
Duque frequently takes youth out for activities like going to the movies, boating, or simply being a listening ear.
Now, Johnson-Hall is also celebrating a full-circle moment with the program. She's now a group facilitator, using her experience to empower other caregivers.
"Together, we have this exciting future. It really is a good partnership that we have, and we are a kinship family," she shared as she thinks of what's to come for her grandchildren.
The program's three-decade milestone will be commemorated on Saturday, November 11, with a celebration honoring the Kinship caregivers, youth, and program alumni at the Edgewood campus on Vicente Street, reaffirming the program's long-standing mission of family supporting family.
Edgewood will honor its Kinship caregivers, youth and program alumni on Saturday, November 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Edgewood's 1801 Vicente Street campus.
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