Myra Hernandez and Lakeisha Hohl developed a friendship while working together at a foster family agency. The two women have a background in working with children with disabilities, years of experience as social workers and both have master’s degrees in psychology. Together, they decided to make the leap to opening their own foster family agency to serve the needs of their local community.

Based out of Fontana, the organization was launched in September 2021, but the process of being approved for an official contract in San Bernardino County takes time. The women soon realized there was going to be a long wait to be able to certify resource families and match foster children with loving homes. During the interim, they decided to provide support and serve where they could.

S & L Foster Family Agency launched its “My Bedding” project and “Celebrate Me” project in February 2002 and has since served 182 foster youths.  The My Bedding project provides children and youth with a customized comforter set that includes a decorative item, books, a mattress protector and a pillow. For many of the youths served in this program, it is the first time they have been able to personalize their living space.

“When these kids are given the opportunity to pick, and to decorate their room and keep these items as their own, it’s empowering,” Hohl said. “The first step is to meet them where they are and from there we can start to build them up.”

The Celebrate Me Project honors major milestones for youth, celebrating moments like birthdays and graduations. This includes celebrating youth who have aged out of the foster care system. Recently, the organization held a graduation party for one of its youths who graduated from California State University, San Bernardino.

It’s important to Hohl and Hernandez that youth who have aged out of the foster care system have the skills they need to thrive. Many of the youth the organization has met through its other two programs have taken advantage of the free one-on-one educational and career guidance.

“One of the most beautiful things is that we have youth who have connected with us and just come into the office just to talk with us,” Hernandez said. “We did not expect to create relationships with our kids.”

Once the organization has received its contract to match resource families and foster children in San Bernardino County, the agency plans to continue with the programs it has created as well. The women named the organization after two family members who passed away in 2021, Sandra and Louis, looking to the way they lived their lives as inspiration. It was their acts of kindness and support that makes the ladies want to give back to youth.

“For this entire year and a half, Lakeisha and I have gone without a salary,” Hernandez said. “There is such a need and that’s where our heart is. We’ve learned so much about how to make every dollar stretch. It’s been a wonderful exploration.”

Recently, S & L Foster Family Agency received a grant from Youth Grantmakers through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The organization welcomes grants and donations to help with the work it will continue to do for foster youth who have aged out of the system and for services beyond what funds from contracts provides.

“I wish more people in the community knew that serving isn’t just about an in-kind donation and just during the holidays,” Hohl said. “There is a need for being consistent. These kids need people who are willing to not give up on them when life gets hard and through the highs and lows.”

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This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, December 2022.

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