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Just in Time honored for serving former foster youths

JIT team
(L-R): Don Wells, JIT CEO; Diane Cox, JIT Development co-director; David Thomas; Tina Thomas; Susanne Livingston; Brad Livingston, JIT board president.
(Carol Sonstein)

Youths reared by foster families face daunting obstacles when they reach adulthood.

When they turn 18, their host families no longer receive money from county social services to support rearing the youths. These young adults often find themselves thrust out in the world on their own without a safety net.

That’s where Just in Time for Foster Youth comes in.

For its work in helping former foster children navigate the challenges of adulthood, the San Diego nonprofit on Jan. 27 received the Kaleidoscope Award for Good Governance during the 18th Annual Nonprofit Governance Symposium at the University of San Diego.

The award is presented by The Nonprofit Institute of USD to recognize, celebrate and promote good governance in the region’s nonprofit sector.

“It’s quite an honor,” said Just in Time Board President Brad Livingston, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “I think the award is just recognizing the excellence of the organization and the leadership.”

In 2021, Just in Time assisted more than 1,500 former foster youths with housing, education, jobs, finances, transportation, positive connections and well-being.

(L-R) Don Wells, JIT CEO; Ron Livingston (father); Brad Livingston, JIT board president.
(L-R) Don Wells, JIT CEO; Ron Livingston (father); Brad Livingston, JIT board president.
(Carol Sonstein)

Livingston credited the organization’s success to strong collaboration between the 24-member board and a staff of more than 35 led by Chief Empowerment Officer Don Wells.

“We have a great board,” Livingston said in a recent phone interview. “The board is very engaged with the staff. We have great synergy.

“It takes time but you build trusted and respected relationships. Through those relationships, you create synergy and you can really move the mission forward.”

Livingston singled out Wells for his role in strengthening the organization and expanding its capabilities.

“When an organization grows you have to build infrastructure,” Livingston said. “Don hired really good talent in terms of building a leadership team. ... We’ve injected some technology.

“That’s where the last few years the growth has been focused and it’s allowed us to do a better job. With that, through development and networking, we’ve built a very supportive community of investors and we have a very strong development team also.”

Wells said he started as a volunteer with Just in Time in 2006 and took charge of the staff in 2010.

“We’ve really worked hard at Just in Time in creating a basic sense of trust and really constructive communication,” Wells said. “Even when we’re in conflict, it’s done in a constructive way. I really feel very strongly that that’s led to all the success we’ve had in the last few years.

“We have grown from basically a volunteer-driven organization that’s served a couple of hundred youths for basic needs to an organization that provides comprehensive resources — everything from helping people get their driver’s license and get a car to helping them get a job.”

He said the graduation rate for college students aided by Just in Time is 75 percent to 80 percent, compared to the national norm for foster youth of 3 percent to 6 percent.

The award, which came in the category of nonprofits with annual budgets of between $500,000 and $10 million, serves as validation that Just in Time is on the right track with its approach. The group is exploring the potential for expanding to communities outside of San Diego County.

“Over the next year as we get into our 20th anniversary, which will start the next fiscal year in July, we want to really have a plan in place to help other people to achieve the same sort of impact that we’ve had,” Wells said.

To Livingston, the honor is confirmation that his North County-based family foundation, which provides college scholarships to foster youths, made the right decision several years ago to join forces with Just in Time.

“It just became a lot of work,” Livingston said. “What we recognized is you just can’t give a kid a scholarship when a lot of times they need broader services. ...

“Just in Time has really grown and with all the programs, it’s really serving the community and creating a community for these youths — not only with services but connecting them to the community with mentors and role models and coaches.”

For more information on Just in Time, visit jitfosteryouth.org.


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