ANAHEIM, Calif. — Running away is what J.J., who is 22-years-old, used to do.
What You Need To Know
- Orange County Community Foundation created a platform to help 11 different nonprofits raise money with a Giving Day on March 25
- The foundation and nonprofits' has a goal of raising $90,000 in 24 hours
- J.J. is a former foster youth who is being trained and employed by a nonprofit based in Anaheim called Kherut
- The organization empowers survivors of sex trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, imprisonment, and young women aging out of foster care, in a safe and supportive environment
"I first started running at the age of 9, but I'd be gone for an hour. The older I got, the longer it was," she said.
For more than two weeks now, she has been riding the bus to and from work every day. As she continues the process of building a new life for herself, she removes parts that do not serve her anymore – like the time in foster care.
"I just didn't like it, and everything about it was just so abnormal. I did not feel normal. The streets were kind of like a getaway for me," J.J. said.
She said she hated being in foster care and having to live in a group home.
J.J. was placed into the foster care system when she was 7 years old when police responded to her home after her mother was seen throwing things out of her window. J.J. recalls being the "underdog" in her family and not being treated well.
While she was living in a group home, J.J. would run away from time to time.
"By the time I was 13, I was gone for a couple of weeks. Then, when I hit 15 or 16, I was gone for a couple of months. I could never really stay gone that long because I always get caught doing stupid stuff like stealing from stores. Then I'd go back to juvenile hall or the group home," J.J. said.
She dreamed of turning 18 so she could be free of the system but did not realize the reality of what her newfound freedom meant.
"I was really fed while I was in the system, but ever since I turned 18, it was just like hunger and a constant struggle to find food. Money is always on my mind," she said.
Young women like J.J. can find themselves in trouble with the law as they try to survive life after foster care. Some of them turn up in shelters or organizations like Kherut.
The organization is a nonprofit empowering survivors of sex trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse, imprisonment, and young women aging out of foster care.
The team at Kherut provides employment, training, and mentorship leading to long-term career opportunities and a path toward independence within its food services business platform called Savor.
The food services business platform leverages over 30 years of experience in the restaurant business. There, J.J. is learning her way around the kitchen, which is responsible for catering the Hwy 39 Event Center in Anaheim.
"I'd be in a really bad predicament right now if it weren't for Kherut because it's so hard to find work with my situation. It's just hard to find work in general," J.J. said.
According to a study, 50% of former foster youth, like J.J., are unemployed, experienced homelessness, and on average earn $8,400 per year — a number well below the national poverty level.
Kherut is one of 11 nonprofits working with Orange County Community Foundation, or OCCF, to raise $90,000 in 24 hours through a Giving Day campaign called "The Future is Working."
OCCF collaborates with individuals, families, foundations, and businesses to fulfill their philanthropic and financial objectives while supporting the causes they care about most. Founded in 1989, OCCF has awarded nearly $780 million in grants and scholarships in Orange County, across the country, and around the world.
"It's a critical time to be able to help these 11 nonprofits," said Carol Ferguson, director of Donor Relations and Programs at OCCF.
Ferguson helps oversee programs and campaigns like "The Future is Working."
She said Orange County saw a 280% increase in unemployment during the pandemic.
"The 11 nonprofits that are participating in the future provide really amazing and deep services to help people access what their skillset is, what training do they need, helping them with resume building, job coaching, and actually connecting them to jobs in our community."
Without these nonprofits, J.J. and many people would not be able to find stable jobs, build their resumes. In turn, the organizations would not be able to help people who have suffered so much during the pandemic without support from the community and donors.
Participating nonprofits in this Giving Day are Chrysalis, CIELO, Community Action Partnership Orange County, Hart Community Homes, High School Inc., Kherut, JVS SoCal, Orange County Conservation Corps, Taller San Jose Hope Builders, Youth Employment Service, and Vital Link.
While J.J. is working in the kitchen now, she hopes she can receive training through Kherut to someday become a receptionist.
J.J. said she just wants to live a normal life and work a nine-to-five job.
"I feel like Kherut will make it better, but you do have to put the leg work in. You just have to work with them, and they'll work with you," J.J. said
After years of running away from her problems, J.J. said she now only faces them head-on.