County Sponsors ‘Winter Wonderland’ Fun Event for Foster Kids

A child uses a sponge dipped in watercolor to paint a shark Saturday morning during the Winter Wonderland event at Bucklin Park in El Centro.
EL CENTRO — Foster children from Imperial County had a fun day Saturday filled with activities, recreation, entertainment and snacks during the Winter Wonderland event at Bucklin Park.
Winter Wonderland, an event organized to entertain local children in the county foster system, was originally set for Dec. 23 of last year, but was rescheduled to Jan. 7 due to inclement weather with rain pouring down night and day in Imperial Valley. 
Children ran around between the two air-filled bouncer slides, arts and craft areas, hotdog stand, and the chips and drinks corner. The weather was cool with the sun shining bright and the grounds dry. 
Jose Luis Torres, program manager at Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, said, “Basically we’re putting together an event for foster children to enjoy the day.” 
Torres said the holiday season can be stressful for foster children who are not able to spend time with their families. Along with everything else going on in their lives, they suffer from being separated from their family and siblings.
At this event, Torres said, they have a recreational fun day complete with slide bouncers, and entertainers dressed as popular characters like Spiderman and Disney’s Frozen characters.  
Winter Wonderland provides an opportunity for foster children to be with their siblings and families. Otherwise, they might not see each other as often as they would like, said Torres. He anticipated between 75-100 foster children participated in the event. 
According to Torres, statistically, foster youth children struggle in school, miss a lot of school days, and usually fall behind their grade levels and all these things can affect them later in life.
Because of this, he promoted a new program that will provide incentives and encourage children to perform well in school called Rising Stars Awards. The program will acknowledge foster children who excel, show great attendance and participate in extracurricular activities. This is the first year of implementation, he said. 
Imperial County partnered with other county organizations to plan and carry out the event. Torres said Imperial County Social Services provided supplies, the Calexico Unified School District donated toys, and AmeriCorps provided volunteers. 
John Cabrera, AmeriCorps coordinator with the Imperial County Office of Education, said thirteen AmeriCorps volunteers monitored children at the slide bouncers, served snacks, worked with arts and crafts, and handed out flyers.