Locals reach out to gift Rancho Damacitas kids with ‘summer fun’

Mandy Cheek and Miss April deliver summer fun gifts to Rancho Damacitas. This local donation will serve to ensure foster kids at Rancho Damacitas enjoy summer to the fullest.
Mandy Cheek and Miss April deliver summer fun gifts to Rancho Damacitas. This local donation will serve to ensure foster kids at Rancho Damacitas enjoy summer to the fullest.

It may take a village to raise a child, but it only took a handful of Murrieta residents and business owners to make a summer difference to the Rancho Damacitas kids.

A recent “Lunch with Friends” outreach, organized by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce, celebrated the Rancho Damacitas children’s home, to educate all in attendance about the charity and the people it serves.

“For a $10 donation, chamber members and business owners came out to learn about Rancho Damacitas, and what our needs are,” Rancho Damacitas Community Development Liaison Terry Rausin said.

Rausin spoke with business owners and friends of the chamber about Rancho Damacitas, their umbrella services, new programs, and expanding to support foster kids in the community and emancipated youth through Project Independence.

Rancho Damacitas also offered campus tours for anyone to connect and partner.

“Miss April wanted to come right away,” Rausin said. “She brought Scott Agajanian, from the Murrieta chamber, along with her for their tour.”

Floored by the campus, Agajanian and April Vidal, or Miss April as she likes to be called, explored the residential area and the yard. Before they left, the two were brainstorming Rancho Damacitas’s immediate needs for summer and how to provide something simple but impactful for summer.

“I wanted to do something for the kids, to gather the great people of our area, and support a summer of fun for the children,” Miss April said.

“Rancho Damacitas is, at its heart, a campus,” Rausin explained. “We have six homes, 36 kids, and more kids in Project Independence for foster kids that are aging out of the system.”

With summer coming, multiple kids in each home, that amounts to lots of food, laundry, activity, and entertainment for the months out of school, according to Rausin.

“At Miss April and Scott’s request, we created a list of things that could be donated to offset costs of summer budgets for the homes,” she said. “Miss April is an ambassador, she’s amazing. She shared her passion and created amazing outreach.”

Among the people touched by the summer of fun campaign were Agajanian, mother Mandy Cheek and Murrieta chamber CEO Patrick Ellis. Miss April utilized Facebook as a way to harness the giving campaign and Cheek gathered the items for delivery.

“My daughter is a student at Miss April’s,” Cheek said, “and I myself am a former foster child. Around Mother’s Day, I discovered the outreach for collecting for Rancho Damacitas, and knew I had to help.”

Miss April coordinated the giving effort through Facebook, offering up the extensive list. Cheek assisted, gathering the items needed from one basket into a plethora of summer fun items including beach towels, movies, brownies, summer snacks, slip and slides and more. The outpouring that followed showed the heart behind the community, according to Miss April.

“They don’t want these kids sitting indoors, but working together, playing together, communicating,” Miss April said. “It’s what summer should be all about.”

After learning about Rancho Damacitas, and the foster work being done there, Cheek knew she wanted to be involved.

“I helped coordinate the donations,” she said. “When I started this, I’d never been to Rancho Damacitas. But I did know what it means to have people go out of their way for you, when you are in the foster system. I wanted to help so badly, right away.”

The offering is much more meaningful than just the slip and slides, ladder golf, more than 30 beach towels, movies, snacks, picnic items, juices, granola bars, and gift cards, according to Rausin. It’s granting children who might not get a summer the opportunity to play and be recognized for outstanding achievements.

“We use gift cards for kids to help build their value systems. They are given one-on-one time with their house parents or counselors. If they’ve been a good citizen, kept their room clean, they are rewarded, and these donations matter,” Rausin said. “The homes are structured around core values, and the rewards support those.”

Rausin praised Cheek as a success story of the foster system in Southwest Riverside County.

“Mandy has everything we aspire for our foster kids at Rancho Damacitas. She has a family, a job, and she’s giving back. We are thrilled to have her continued support,” Rausin said.

If you would like to donate to Rancho Damacitas, visit their website at www.4kidsfirst.org. Organizations who wish to donate “in kind” items can call Carlie Miller in the Rancho Damacitas Development Office at (951) 302-2317.

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