COVINGTON, La. — Families are getting together all around the country, but not everyone has a family to go to. That's why James Samaritan on the Northshore has creating a space for foster kids and teens who have aged out of the system, plus anyone else in the community who wants to be part of their inaugural Thanksgiving day feast.
Aliyah Zeien is one person at the Thanksgiving dinner who is surrounded by people she considers family.
"There is a sense of love and happiness and belonging. No one is looking at you like you're a former foster you, they look at you like you're a person," Zeien said.
At 13-years-old, Zeien was put into the foster care system, jumping home to home, until she aged out of the system five years ago without a forever home.
"It was a very bumpy and rocky journey. I was very scared, I felt alone most of the time," she said.
Now 23, she's a Southeastern graduate working with the Methodist Children's Home and the State Youth Advisory Board.
This allows her to help other foster kids.
"We advocate for youth across the state, their needs and desire, and different programs they would need to be successful when aging out of foster care," Zeien said.
On a day when many are surrounded by family, she's joining foster kids, other kids who have aged out, as well as anyone else in the community who wants a place to go. They're at the first Thanksgiving dinner being held at James Samaritan in Covington.
"That can be a very traumatic time, a very sad time for someone that hasn't had family or aged out of the foster care system with no forever family," said Kim Bigler, founder of James Samaritan, about the importance of the dinner. "To have a place where they can go."
"They're giving these youth a sense of hope," Zeien said.
Zeien in thankful she has now reconnected with her biological family, but she is also thankful for a place like James Samaritan that everyone can call home on Thanksgiving day.
James Samaritan is an advocacy group and resource center for kids in foster care. It was founded in 2015.