EL CENTRO – More than a dozen members of the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program’s Project ACE youth advocates and volunteers gathered Friday morning at Bucklin Park to brighten up the faces of Imperial County foster children with a late Easter celebration.
Imperial Valley Regional Occupation (IVROP) Project ACE staff works closely with and is funded by the Imperial County Social Services to obtain referrals on behalf of the Child Welfare Department for youth eligible for the program and to create a comprehensive set of independent living programs and aftercare services designed to help foster youth become productive, responsible and self-sufficient adults.
The program serves foster youth between the ages of 16 through 25 who qualify for Independent Living Program Services, as well as youth in foster care and former ILP eligible foster youth residing in Imperial County, including probation wards. The program prioritizes youth placed in a foster home, group home or KinGap placement after their 16th birthday.
Close to 100 foster children between the ages of three to 12 years old attended the event and enjoyed various activities ranging from several arts and crafts tables, face painting, piñatas, and an inflatable bouncer playground.
“Most of our volunteers today are Project ACE students who are foster children themselves and are now role models and mentors to our younger ones,” said Luis Torres, Project ACE Program Manager.
One IVROP Project ACE volunteer said she felt very happy donating her time to such a great cause and said she was a foster child herself since the age of four and knew the struggles of being without a family.
Children also received various gifts donated by community members ranging from reading books, pencils, toys, candies, games and coloring books.
“The idea is to give back to the community and for our IVROP Program ACE students to learn leadership skills and become successful adults,” said Torres.
Local artist Eddie Shiffer volunteered his time and donated wood cutouts while assisting children as they used acrylic paint to decorate the cutouts.
“It is a please to participate in these types of events and be a mentor to the children,” said Shiffer. “Every year I try to participate a few times with Project ACE activities. I enjoy it and like the idea of outdoor activities versus the use of cell phones, tablets or video games.”
According to Torres, IVROP Project ACE provides participating youth with a variety of services which include academic instruction, career exploration and awareness, academic and vocational counseling, life skills training, mentoring, transitional housing services, enhanced academic instruction, leadership development, specialized instruction, employability skills and work experience.
“It is awesome to see kids happy when I paint their faces,” said Crystal Madueño, another volunteer. “I am glad I participated today and plan to continue in the upcoming events.”
Project ACE receives donations several months prior to the event from community members and private entities that make these types of events possible.
“We receive donations from private industry and community members and big contributions from Golden One Bank Credit Union, Community Valley Bank and C3 Car Club,” noted Torres.
Children enjoyed delicious hot dogs, juices, water, churritos, candy, cupcakes, chips and fruit snacks.
“I encourage the community to be more involved with our foster youth and consider becoming a foster parent,” Torres said. “There is a shortage of foster parents in Imperial Valley.”
Program ACE will hold its next event in August when foster children will receive school supplies for the next school year. To make donations or obtain more information on the program please contact Program ACE at (760) 337-3096, or to learn more on how to become foster parents please contact social services at (760) 482-2000.