Recognizing National Foster Care Month through an extraordinary Southern California couple with 21 years of being foster parents
LOS ANGELES, May 19, 2017 -- Guillermo Menjivar has a favorite phrase regarding the many children in his life: “No problem.”
“You need a ride to school? No problem.”
“You want to go shopping? I’ll take you – no problem.”
“You need $10 for lunch? No problem.”
This well-worn saying has fallen from Guillermo’s lips thousands of times over the last 21 years, displaying an openness of heart and a generous spirit that have made him and his wife, Marina, foster parents to a total of 34 children.
“We treat them all like our own,” said Guillermo.
No matter the child, the circumstances, or the challenges, the couple prides themselves on creating a safe, structured, loving home for every one. “Once a kid comes here, they don’t want to leave,” said Guillermo.
In Los Angeles County, with 18,000 children currently in foster care, such dedication is rare, according to Neil Zanville, a spokesperson with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. “If you affect even one child’s life, it’s a miracle,” he said. “To do it 34 times is way beyond what we can expect from our caregivers.”
The Menjivars, who live in Reseda, CA, remember clearly the date they received their first foster child: November 15, 1995. At the time, they were raising two boys of their own, ages 17 and 10. Becoming a foster parent seemed natural to Guillermo because growing up in El Salvador, his mother raised several children in foster care. On the recommendation of a friend, they became licensed through Bienvenidos, a Southern California foster care and adoption agency that is an affiliate of the foster care charity Hillsides.
This first child was a 10-year-old boy on his 25th placement. The boy told Guillermo that his previous families kicked him out after a month. The boy was challenged with hyperactivity, wet his bed, and was on several medications.
Guillermo was undaunted by any of this. “I had no issue working with a kid like that,” he said. “We just tried to help.”
The boy wound up living with the Menjivars for the next eight years until turning 18. He went on to attend college and find a stable job. He is now married with two children, and a frequent visitor at their house.
Guillermo and Marina both work full-time. He is a linen supervisor for Northridge Hospital in Northridge, CA and she works as a medical technician for a retirement home. They have almost exclusively fostered pre-teen or teen boys. Currently two boys, ages 14 and 15, live with them, and they are the legal guardian of one of the boys. A foster child they raised who is 27 also lives with them.
Not all the children who have passed through their doors lived there as long as their first foster child. Some stay for years, others, for months. However, the Menjivars give each the same opportunities.
“They like sports, we sign them up for AYSO or a basketball league,” said Guillermo. “We find out what they like and we give them what they need.” The couple navigates field trips, summer camps, ROTC trips, dance competitions, and tournaments. When kids stay out late and don’t call, just like any parent, they worry.
After the foster children leave the Menjivars, often due to emancipation (aging out of the foster care system) the couple still stays involved. They help the youth find work and apartments, and encourage them to visit and keep in touch.
Marina and Guillermo are both 61. When asked if they see themselves stopping being foster parents in the near future, they responded with an emphatic no.
“It would be so lonely,” said Marina. “This week, one of the boys was at camp, and it was too quiet.
“We get a lot of blessings from opening up our hearts,” she continued. “It’s not easy for other people to do what we do, but for us, it makes us feel good.”
Hillsides provides high quality care, advocacy, and innovative services that promote safe, permanent environments where children and youth can thrive. Headquartered in Pasadena, the agency and its affiliation with Bienvenidos serves 13,000 children and families in Southern California throughout its 33 sites, including school-based mental health offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Baldwin Park. Foster care and adoptions services in approved resource family homes serve families in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. To learn more about both agencies, visit www.Hillsides.org and www.Bienvenidos.org. Visit Hillsides on Facebook @hillsideschildren, on Twitter @Hillsides, or on Instagram @HillsidesPasadena.