This article originally appeared in the Aug. 11, 2015 issue of The Press Enterprise. View clip online.
The scene was reminiscent of countless American childhoods. Eight children wore fresh baseball caps with hanging price tags and the John Hancock of a famous player – in this case, Angels pitcher Garrett Richards – scrawled atop the brims. The kids bobbled along like the dolls Richards had signed and now were carried in boxes tucked securely under their arms.
As they walked out of Pechanga Resort & Casino with five adults on Thursday and headed for the parking lot, still chattering and jostling, the children belied what was deeply special about this warm summer night. They were of one family, but six of them, all boys, were foster children who had known abusive homes and were reclaiming their childhood, one memory-in-progress at a time.
This family lives in one of six ranch-style houses run by Rancho Damacitas Children & Family Services of Temecula. It’s not your typical foster home, and not just because of its wine-country location.
The foster organization hires couples to be foster parents to each houseful of six children and to offer them a traditional home life and hope for the future.
Each house is also assigned a supervisor, a therapist and relief staff.
The foster parents to these six boys, 10 to 12 years of age, are Erik and Alexis Romero, both 35. The Romeros have been foster parents at Rancho Damacitas for almost 10 years. They’ve lost count of how many boys whose lives they’ve touched.
To succeed as a foster parent, said Erik Romero, you can’t lose your inner child.
These kids “have lost it at some time,” he says. “So when they come to our house, we remind them what it’s like to be their age.”
Relying on their own childhood memories, the Romeros plan activities their foster children might not yet have enjoyed: roasting s’mores over a fire, playing hide-and-seek, going to movies – and feeling safe with Mom and Dad. The Romeros even provide most any child’s best friend: a 6-year-old brown Maltipoo named Jake.
The family is rounded out by the Romeros’ daughters, Maxine, 8, and Megan, 11. The Press-Enterprise does not routinely publish the names of foster children.
That evening at the casino, the Romero family, joined by three colleagues, were special guests. The foster organization is one of four local groups to benefit from the casino’s 17th annual charity golf tournament set for Aug. 19 and 20. The event is expected to raise more than $100,000, said Public Relations Manager Ciara Green.
The money will be shared equally among Rancho Damacitas, Project Touch, Safe Alternatives for Everyone and the Inland Empire office of U.S. Vets.
Terri Rausin, community development director at the foster organization, said the casino’s donation will allow the group to add extracurricular and educational activities.
The autograph session was unrelated to the tournament, but because its timing was close, Green said the casino thought it would be “cool” to invite a Rancho Damacitas family.
Alexis Romero said the kids were “beyond excited” to meet a baseball player. They fell in love with the game only recently, after watching a San Diego Padres home game against the San Francisco Giants on July 21.