Two Rancho Santa Fe women inspired to mentor transitioning foster youths

Susanne Livingston

Rancho Santa Fe residents Susanne Livingston and Joanne Marks insist their primary contributions to Just in Time for Foster Youth are their ears.

“We’re just there to offer our support and listen,” Livingston said. “That’s the most important thing we can do — listen, listen, listen.”

The two women will be among five area residents who will be honored for their ability to open their ears as well as their hearts in mentoring young adults through Just in Time. The honors will be presented at the nonprofit’s Sixth Annual Walk the Talk Gala on March 23 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla.

Billed as “Community of Heroes,” the event will also honor Just in Time co-founder Jeanette Day along with contributors Kathy Roberts and Kevan Lyon.

“Just in Time is recognizing our friendship and willingness to get involved in something that is important and that’s volunteerism,” Marks said. “One of my core beliefs is that we are called to give back to help others, particularly people not born into the same type of environment that I was born into.”

Just in Time is a county-wide organization that focuses on assisting foster youths from the ages of 18 through 26 in transitioning from their families to being independent adults.

Joanne Marks

The assistance includes the program Career Horizons, which teaches a host of skills required by the young adults to succeed on their own. Career Horizons helps them with such initiatives as applying for jobs or schools, being prepared for interviews, obtaining drivers’ licenses and managing expenses.

Many foster children have not received education in those basic skills either from their host families or their true parents. A high number of those with foster backgrounds wind up in the criminal justice system or homeless because of their inability to make the transition, authorities say.

“It’s so rewarding to see these youths have success (through Just in Time),” Marks said. “They are not born into an easy situation, but they are determined and intelligent enough to work themselves into a better situation.“Just in Time is one of the best organizations I’ve ever volunteered for. They’re highly organized and aware of the needs of these youths.”

Often, Livingston said, she and other mentors guide the youths through issues such as getting their first apartment and getting settled in with furniture and kitchenware.

Just as important, however, as the tangible support offered by Just in Time is the friendship and direction provided by mentors such as Livingston and Marks.

The women meet with their mentees individually, stay in communication with them and offer them advice when it is sought, said Livingston, who has been involved in the organization for 10 years.

“It became clear that it was necessary to support these kids, not only in helping them get an apartment, but to build up relationships with them, to develop positive role models for them and to show them a positive road to take.

“Really, just as important as giving them financial aid is just being there to help them with day-to-day experiences, and counseling them.”

While grateful for the recognition they will receive at the gala, both Marks and Livingston emphasized their real reward is seeing the young women and men they have counseled get on their feet and move forward toward a good life and career.

“Just in Time is all about community and making a difference in the lives of others,” Livingston said. “It’s not about us. It’s about these kids. They really need support in their lives.”

While Marks has contributed in recent years to Just in Time as a donor, she responded last year to the organization’s need for mentors. She took on a young woman as her mentee and is guiding another one this year.

“Being a coach and mentor covers a lot of areas,” she said. “It’s teaching them things that our parents sometimes teach us, but they might not have learned if they don’t have parents or they have parents who are not successful.

“I was more of an advisor and a friend. I was able to offer more of a worldly view about what was happening. It’s kind of like being an aunt, someone who cares for them, but it’s not forced. It’s all a natural process.”

Information on Just in Time for Foster Youth and the upcoming gala is available at