It is important, this year more than ever, to reach beyond flowers, chocolates, and heart-shaped gifts to the love that binds us to family, friends, and community.
Too many among us now live in fear of losing those they hold most dear. Parents worry that they will be sent back to a country that they left for the promise of safety and freedom. Children worry that they will come home to an empty house, with no clue about how to even begin looking for the parents or siblings they hugged when they left for school.
College students, brought to the United States as infants, fear that they will be torn away from the only country they have ever known. They want to stay and learn so that they can work, pay their taxes, and raise their children to do the same.
Today, as we celebrate romance, whether the excited joy of new love or the contentment of love smoothed by years, we also remember that the capacity to love fully begins in the safety of home and family. We learn to love from being loved. We learn how to care by being well cared for. We learn to listen by being heard, to look after by being watched over.
Strong families build strong communities with the capacity, interest, and skills to care for their citizens. We protect and strengthen our country by protecting and strengthening families.
This means not only honoring individual families, but also attending to the institutions promoting the well-being of children. We at A Home Within are particularly concerned about the foster care community. We worry that an influx of children left behind in the wake of wide-spread deportations will swell the already growing child welfare rolls, beyond the system’s capacity to provide even minimally adequate care.
We need to remind those in power that refugee and immigrant children must be able to count on their community and country for protection, safety and security.
Children do not have a voice in the policies that govern their lives, so we need to speak for them. In return, they will develop their voices as they grow. We will benefit every day from the fierceness of their love for community and their loyalty to country.
I hope that today will find you celebrating with those you love. Perhaps you will enjoy a romantic evening, a meal around the family table, or an outing with friends. If you are fortunate to have any of these special moments in your life, I hope that you will also remember to hold those who are separated from friends and family in your hearts and minds.
Toni Heineman is the founder of A Home Within, a California nonprofit dedicated to meeting the emotional needs of current and former foster youths.