WHITTIER – Accepting gifts was always hard for Katrisse Lewis. Gifts like candy and flowers seemed like consolation prizes to her. What she didn’t have, but craved, was close, trusting relationships. “I was used to people leaving me. All my life I’ve been left,” Lewis, a 20-year-old Whittier resident, said. About two years ago, she was accepted to United Friends of Children’s Pathways program for emancipated foster children. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsThe transitional housing program provides participants independent living skills, career planning and development, counseling and mentoring, emergency assistance and educational support. The program operates three transitional-living apartment buildings in Whittier that provide 58 beds for emancipated foster children. On Thursday, the Pathways program held a ceremony for Lewis and 13 other graduates of the 18-month program at the program’s largest apartment building in unincorporated South Whittier. The participants were awarded for holding full-time jobs and paying their own rent on time. “Some have never had family pictures taken of them. Some have never boiled water – in some group homes they can’t even use knives because they’re on probation,” said Charissa Abbay, UFC’s director of development. The program gives participants life-skills training, and acts much like parents would when their children are leaving home for the first time. At the graduation ceremony, they gave out gift cards to a furniture store and blankets with the graduates’ names sewn into them. This training has given Lewis more than cooking skills and career counseling. She said she is now able to trust people – something she couldn’t do before coming to the program. Lewis said that, during the two-hour graduation ceremony Thursday, memories of her first encounter with the program ran through her mind. Before she was accepted to the Pathways program, Lewis attended an orientation. At the end of the orientation, staff members handed out bags of candy to participants and Lewis refused to accept one, she said. “I didn’t take it because I poured out my heart to them to let me be in the program, and I was worried they would say `You’re not in the program, but here’s some candy,”‘ Lewis said. Her childhood was marked by abuse and neglect, and Lewis never felt truly cared for by her parents, who had drug addictions. “A lot of times we didn’t have any food in the house, and I would be left by myself with nothing to eat,” she said. She had a fight with her brother when she was 15 years old and was placed on probation. After that, she moved into a group home, but went back and forth between the home and family in Claremont and Covina for several years. Her probation officer told her about the Pathways program, and she applied. Now, she says it was the best thing that could have happened to her. They supported her dream of becoming a massage therapist, and now she works at Burke Williams Spa in Pasadena. “I’m able to trust somebody and know how to have healthy relationships now,” she said. Pathways staff rewarded Lewis and other graduates on Thursday with awards for growth in the areas of leadership, career and paying rent on time. Lewis was given the Personal Achievement award, for greatest growth in all areas. “When I first met her, I was taken aback by how tense she looked in her face,” said Pathways Director VaLecia Adams. “She’s grown in so many ways.” Graduates laughed when staff recalled memories of participants’ early days in the program. Some wiped away tears when staff reminded them how they’ve grown, despite difficult odds. Advocacy Counselor Nella Marov talked about graduate Deven Wood’s transformation in the program. “At first, he was very quiet and stayed to himself, and I’m sure he thought he and I had nothing in common. But, we developed a special bond. Now, he’s a confident, outspoken man.” Though they have graduated the program, staff said they are still considered family. “Whether you still live here or not, it doesn’t affect how connected we are,” said Adams. “We still have your back.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3026160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!