More than 1,500 children—many of them removed from abusive home lives—have been served by Thessalonika Family Services in the 30 years since the nonprofit launched in the Temecula Valley.
With April being Child Abuse Prevention Month, the organization, which operates Rancho Damacitas, a home for these children in Temecula Valley Wine Country, is reflecting on its accomplishments. Also, it is looking to the community to support its mission as it looks to aid in the transitions into adulthood many of its youth would otherwise encounter alone.
Patch sat down with Director of Development Clifford Nunn to learn more about the facility. Nunn started working at Rancho Damacitas 16 years ago when he and his wife served as staff.
From its beginnings as a single residence for girls being removed from their homes because of extreme abuse and neglect, TFS grew to operate four cottages on 12.5 acres and two additional homes in Temecula. The residences are staffed with live-in couples who serve as the mother and father to as many as six children per home.
There are currently 36 youth served at the facility that accepts those ages 6 to 18. The average stay is 18 to 24 months.
Nunn explained some of the children are referred to the organization through Child Protective Services, while others may be adopted but are facing problems in their adoptive home. Yet others are placed there because of difficulties within their family. The goal is to reunify the latter two groups of children with their families through therapy and time away; whereas those who were removed from their homes may not have anywhere to go back to, Nunn said.
This is why TFS includes two other programs: Rancho Jireh, for coordinating foster opportunities for families interested in fostering a child that has been removed from his/her own home; and Project Independence, which provides financial and emotional support to children when they age out of the system and government assistance programs are no longer available.
Children are accepted to TFS from Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, which is a main source of funding. Additionally, money is raised through grant submissions, private donations and fundraising events.
As of March, TFS will shift its focus and resources from Rancho Jireh to Project Independence, while continuing to service youth who arrive through Child Protective Services.
Project Independence, which was launched within the last three years, is entirely funded through fundraising and private donations, Nunn said.
Unlike years past, the majority of children placed at Rancho Damacitas are older, reducing the need for foster placement and increasing the need to focus on transitioning successfully into adulthood.
“The children we’ve accepted at Rancho Damacitas over the last few years have been middle- and high school-aged youth,” Nunn said. “Many of these youth will transition from Rancho Damacitas and will need the support Project Independence will be able to provide. Former foster youth historically have had a difficult time transitioning into adulthood. This is where we really want to make a difference; parenting doesn’t end at age 18.”
Nunn’s goal is to be able to keep some of these youth until they are 21.
“We really want kids to leave here ready for independent living or reunified,” Nunn said.
Therefore, in conjunction with its 30th anniversary this year, TFS is planning several benefit events. One way to contribute is by eating at California Pizza Kitchen in Temecula April 23-25. (Download the attached flier). CPK will in turn donate a portion of its sales to the organization.
To keep abreast of upcoming events and to learn more about how to get involved, visit 4KidsFirst.org or call 951-302-2317.