Nonprofit hopes to expand to help children aging out of foster care 

Nonprofit hopes to expand to help children aging out of foster care

Tender Love's mission is to help homeless and low income people out of their circumstances causing homelessness.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Katrina Lancellotti’s story might sound like a typical college student’s at first – a 19 year old taking classes at UNM to become a social worker. But her journey to get where she is now was anything but typical. 

“When I was 16, I was taken away from a very abusive family,” said Lancellotti.

She and her twin sister endured a decade of abuse in their Rio Rancho home.

“We were constantly shunned and pushed away from society, and always just in a small circle,” Lancellotti said. 

After years of homeschooling to hide bruises and secrets, the girls hit their breaking point.

“Me and my sister, we were going through a lot, and we were scared. We were not going to tell the truth. But at some point, we decided to tell the truth because we knew that eventually it stopped if we told the truth about what was happening to us,” she said. 

That’s when Lancellotti started her foster home and youth shelter shuffle. 

“I was put into multiple homeless shelters and youth shelters. So I was always moving around constantly,” she said. 

She went through at least three foster homes and was homeless for a short time. 

“Each home had time limits, you can only be there for a certain amount of time, or they push you out. And they didn’t care where they pushed you out, it coule be on the streets or to another home or another program,” Lancellotti said. 

At 17, she saw a silver lining. One of her caseworkers told her about “Tender Love.” 

 “They said they wouldn’t accept me because I was too young. So literally, the day after my 18 birthday, I was right at their door, asking you to be accepted into the program,” said Lancellotti.

Debbie Johnson welcomed her with open arms. She started Tender Love in 2013, based off of her own experience with homelessness. 

“I became homeless when I first came to this country in 2001,” said Johnson. 

Tender Love’s mission is to help homeless and low income people out of their circumstances causing homelessness. It started with just job training and expanded to housing for homeless women and children. 

“I don’t see homeless, I see future leaders. I see, you know, future business owners. What makes us different is we break the cycle of homelessness from the root,” Johnson said. 

Now Johnson has her sight on the next expansion, to help children aging out of the foster care system. 

“I just realized that when we take care of youth today, we’re taking care of our future because they are the leaders of tomorrow. And when we want to eradicate homelessness, it is always good to look at those populations,” said Johnson.

Reps from the Children, Youth and Families Department say there’s about 2,000 children in the foster care system right now. At least 60 will age out between now and the end of the year. 

Johnson says it’s too easy for them to fall into bad behavior and end up in jail.

“We just want to help them, mentor them, counsel them, guide them towards achieving, you know, successful lives,” Johnson said. 

Lancellotti wants to help with that mission through her next goal of becoming a social worker for Tender Love. 

“I finally know that I’m worth it, and I can achieve something great for other people,” said Lancellotti. 

Johnson hopes to have a new house bought or rented by July. She says they need more funding to make it happen. Then there’s the furniture and other supplies to make the new house a home.

If you would like to help and donate to Tender Love, click here.