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Taking a community to raise a youth

Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Cynthia Robertson

Just in Time for Foster Youth opens its doors in Grantville

Just in Time For Foster Youth, a unique organization helping hundreds of youth who have aged out of the foster care system, has made Grantville its home.

(l to r) Volunteer Terrence Lewis, youth services manager Vanessa Davis, development associate Nathan Brunetta, volunteer Janet Cooper, volunteer Michelle Woolfork and youth services coordinator Reshae Brandenburg (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Funded completely by donations, investments and fundraising efforts, Just in Time (JIT) is the stop-gap place for foster youth who have nowhere else to turn once they are released from their foster homes at age 17 or 18. It is a place where changed lives are an everyday occurrence, but never taken for granted.

On July 22, JIT held an open house at its new location at 4560 Alvarado Canyon Road for the public to learn of its programs and invite people to help in volunteering and donations.

Reshae Bradenburg, a former foster youth who is now the youth services coordinator, welcomed visitors to the open house.

“We are ecstatic about this new place. The youth can think of it as their second home, a place to come and rest, talk with one of the advisors, get the help they need, make themselves a sandwich and just hang with some of the other youth in the HUB room,” Bradenburg said.

Just in Time was organized in 2002 and has developed many programs to help these youth get situated in their first apartment, start a college education and network with professionals. The Changing Lanes program provides access to driving schools and teachers to obtain driver’s permits and licenses. Personal advisors in the Financial Fitness program teach youth how to manage and save money and plan for the future.

“We want our young people to be out of the system and come into community,” explained Executive Director Don Wells.

“We are really like a family. We act like a family. We’re not an agency where they line up waiting for a handout,” said Diane Cox, co-director of development.

Co-Director of Development Diane Cox talks to visitors at the new Just in Time space in Grantville. (Photo by Cynthia Robertson)

Something else to consider is the economic impact of helping foster youth. Nearly 70 percent of inmates are former foster youth. It costs $200 a day to support a young person who has gone to prison, while it costs only $10 a day to support a youth participating in JIT services.

“If a young person has spent several years in prison, what do they have to contribute to society? Who are they? Whereas at JIT, the youth are coming out as confident, capable and connected human beings with employment, schooling, skills and a chance to give back to society,” Cox said. “It just doesn’t make sense to let these kids fall into the cracks.”

The youth themselves have a newfound courage to tell the stories of where they have come from and what they have accomplished.

“Healing comes when you begin to tell your story and identify with it,” said Nathan Brunetta, himself a former foster youth and now development associate at JIT.

Those stories are of triumph, of overcoming obstacles made possible simply by the connection with people in the community.

Take Brunetta, 26 years of age. When he was just 5 years old, his mother packed him up along with his siblings and headed out on a Greyhound bus to California from the East Coast. His mother was on the lookout for Brunetta’s father who was constantly seeking a steady source of heroin for his addiction. Once in San Diego, Brunetta and his siblings ended up joining their dad, panhandling on street corners for over a year. When Brunetta was 8 years old, his father abandoned the family altogether, and his mother turned to alcohol, placing Brunetta and his siblings up for foster care.

Brunetta ended up moving in with a man who isolated him from the outside world, including school. Finally, when Nathan was 17 years old and told to leave, he went from one friends’ home to another, sleeping on their sofas. This went on for seven years until when needing rent assistance, Brunetta discovered JIT. There he met other young men in similar situations who were determined to make their lives better through education, work and building trusting relationships.

Brunetta had come to JIT for stable housing; he ended up finding an entire supportive community within which he could progress in his own self-healing.

“Healing comes when you begin to tell your story and identify with it,” he said.

Cox sums up JIT’s mission this way:

“The whole idea of connection with community is the foundation of JIT. Everybody needs somebody to believe in them.”

For more information about Just in Time for Foster Youth, go to jitfosteryouth.org.

—Cynthia Robertson is a San Diego-based freelance writer. Reach her at c1g2robertson@gmail.com.

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