Jeanetta Watson, 20, is a success story. She is saving her money, paying her rent, keeping her apartment clean, and working on her goals.
Although these things may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, consider that Jeanetta is one of seven children born to a mother with mental illness. Separated from her family, she was in nine foster homes from the time she was 3 until she was 16.
“I wouldn’t know them if I saw them on a bus!” Jeanetta said about her siblings.
She lived in a group home from age 16 to 18, when she aged out of the foster care system. Although her needs were met at the home, “It was good and bad,” Jeanetta said.
“These were things a parent’s supposed to be doing, not someone else. But it was good because I learned things like how to be independent.”
With that independence came having nowhere else to go. It was then that Jeanetta was referred to St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social services agency at 89th and Capitol that had just begun a program called Youth Moving On (YMO). She was a perfect fit.
One of 20 young people who have aged out of foster care, she has been provided with a one-bedroom apartment and supportive services for 18 months. The goal is to help former foster youth – who lack stability in their lives and a supportive family — achieve independent living.
Jeanetta laughingly calls her case manager, Christine Wood, “a thorn in my side, but a good thorn.”
Christine is actually more like an aunt, Jeanetta said. Although they meet once a week, Christine calls and texts her often. “She ensures that I do what I need to do. She’ll be asking me, ‘Are you going to school?’ Are you getting good grades?’”
Christine also made sure Jeanetta had a resume in order and helps her fill out job applications. Since joining YMO, Jeanetta has had a job at Summerfest that has been offered to her again this year. She had a receptionist position, but was laid off. She’s now in college studying medical billing and coding. Christine went along with her when she enrolled.
“The enrollment counselor definitely got a vibe from her,“Jenetta said with a laugh. When Christine kept asking questions, “He said, ‘She strongly feels the need to make sure this is a good school!’ I thought it was hilarious.”
Now, when Jeanetta leaves the program at the end of April, “I will be working,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of applications out there. And she (Christine) gave me the confindence to be able to go out on my own.” Jeanetta has another year of school and a place to live with a close friend.
Without this program, Jeanetta says she honestly doesn’t think she’d have made it this far.
“Every time I leave the apartment now, I know I have a place to lay my head at night. So I can go out and do the things I need to do. It’s tough out there, but I got to learn what I need to do. (YMO) is all about getting you ready for the world. And it feels good to be safe.”
For more information on the Independent Living Services offered at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, go to www.st-al.org.