La Jolla Country Day School students Kendall, April and Susana flank a giant thank-you note amid the efforts at Just in Time, which supports foster children as they transition into the real world. PHOTO BY TRICIA WARRENS
For the seniors of La Jolla Country Day, Wednesday, May 20, was the last day of class. Instead of fleeing campus, heading off into the last summer before college, they stayed for a barbecue and put together Ikea furniture for Just in Time, My First Home recipients.
“This is their last day of school, and I would be at the beach right now or doing something crazy, but they’re here helping us. It just blows my mind,” said April, one of the Just in Time recipients whose furniture was being built.
Just in Time is a local organization that works with transitioning foster youth to help them lay solid foundations for their futures. It offers programs that help foster youth with financial support, college, employment opportunities and housing. The My First Home program helps in providing recipients with new furniture for their first homes, a big deal for foster kids. April echoed those remarks as she whizzed around on her new rolling office chair.
“This is brand new everything; it’s so cool,” April said. “Being in foster care basically all my life, you get hand-me-downs, which is — not complaining; I’m very grateful for everything that’s come to me, but being able to get new stuff is just really cool.”
Kendall, project manager and a senior this year at La Jolla Country Day, saw what previous classes did with Just in Time and thought it would be a great community service project.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Kendall said, “but we [Kendall and Susan Nordenger, community service director at Country Day] went over to the Just in Time headquarters, and I just fell in love with what they were doing there.”
Having, pitched her idea to the community service board, students decided they wanted to fund not just one recipient, like they did a couple years back, but two.
The seniors raised about $3,400, more than enough to fund two foster kids (Just in Time recommends $1,500 per My First Home recipient). They conducted fundraisers throughout the year to reach their goal, the most successful being a “Kiss a Pig” event.
“We went around the school with four buckets, and each bucket had a picture of a teacher on it, and students dropped money in the bucket of a teacher they wanted to see kiss a pig. We raised about $1,500 from that alone.”
The seniors also held a student-versus-faculty dodgeball game, with a participation fee of $1, and won a canned food drive contest through the food bank. The prize money went toward the Just in Time fund.
“It’s crazy to think that they did all these fundraisers for it and stuff like that; it was so awesome,” said Susana, second recipient of the school’s efforts.
April and Susana purchased similar furniture pieces during their shopping sprees; tables and chairs, furniture Nordenger says can be taken for granted. Nordenger also says this is an important project for the seniors because they are soon to be experiencing the same process – going to college, buying and furnishing their first home — as their parents. “Our kids sort of take it for granted,” she says, “that they’ll have parents who help them and parents who get them what they need.”
Such was not the case for Melissa Gutierrez, a former recipient of Just in Time programs, who at 18 was told by her foster parents she had to leave. She now works at Just in Time as a volunteer coordinator, and she stressed how important an organization like Just in Time is in the foster care community.
“Transitioning youth,” she says, “tend to be that forgotten population. There are 300 foster youth aging out of the system each year in San Diego alone. Oftentimes, those youth don’t have the typical connections of family and networks that everyone else has been building for 18 years. What we [Just in Time] try and do is help show them that there is so much more out there and there are people who really care and want to help them get to where they want to go.”
The efforts of Just in Time and the Country Day seniors have ensured that both April, entering her second year of college, and Susana, a recent high school graduate, have a place to call home, adults to turn to and solid foundations for their futures.
Next year’s seniors at Country Day plan on continuing with the My First Home project and have big goals for next year.
“They want to raise enough money to sponsor three kids,” Susan Nordenger.
Considering the hard work exemplified by this year’s seniors and the motivation of next year's, the partnership between Country Day and Just in Time is showing no signs of going away anytime soon. The future is bright and furnished.
*** Tricia Warrens is a student at Hi Tech High and a spring intern with San Diego Community Newspaper Group. ***