Justin McKay, 21 years old
Former New Directions Resident (2012-2014)
Keynote Speaker for 2012 Golf Tournament
Hi, I’m Justin. I’m 21 and I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. My parents divorced when I was little, so I don’t remember them ever being together. Both of them had drug problems, which made things difficult.
After the divorce, my brother, sister and I lived with my mom and her revolving door of boyfriends. My mom ended up with a guy who was a drug dealer and he didn’t like kids. He and my mom were constantly fighting. I remember the violence, the yelling, and my mom’s bruises.
When I was 12, my mom's boyfriend demanded that she give up her kids. So, mom drove us over to our dad’s house and gave him custody. It hit me hard to know that some things were more important to her than her own children. It left me numb and I stayed that way for years.
When I was 15, my father, brother, sister, and I moved from Anchorage to Sacramento. My father’s drug problem got worse and we lived in a really bad part of town. There was a murder on our street the very first day we were there.
We didn't stay long and quickly moved to Lake Tahoe. The police were after my dad for unpaid tickets. They discovered him smoking pot and found out that he had a family. Cops came to my school one day, took me out of class, and picked up my brother and sister. I had no idea what was going on until we arrived at a temporary foster home.
Social workers contacted my aunt in Illinois and she agreed to take us in. We lived there for two years, but I kept getting into trouble. One day when I arrived home from school, there was a man standing in the driveway. When I asked my aunt who he was, she started crying and told me he was from Child Protective Services and that I was going to California without my brother and sister.
I lived in a foster home in Roseville, but I felt abandoned while my brother and sister stayed with my aunt in their nice home. I threw tantrums, stole things, and was constantly getting in trouble, so I got kicked out.
I went to a group home for two years, then to my first transitional housing program when I turned 18. I had never lived on my own before, and left to my own devices, I started throwing parties and got kicked out.
With nowhere to go, I located my dad, moved with him to San Diego, and couch surfed until my dad found a new girlfriend. We lived with her and her mom. Her mom knew social workers and she told me about Casa de Amparo's New Directions program.
I applied and was lucky that a spot opened up. I got the good news on Valentine’s Day! I moved in when I was 19. I had nothing. I hadn't completed high school, was homeless, and didn’t even know how to drive.
Now, two years later, because of New Directions, I have my high school diploma, a job, a car, and I’m going to college. I finally know what it’s like to accomplish things.
New Directions staff helped me find an adult school to get my diploma, get into college, and land my first job. They also went above and beyond by finding a nice used car for me to purchase and a grant to support my monthly payments. No one ever took me to a dentist when I was growing up, so my teeth are in bad shape and I’m self-conscious about it. New Directions applied for and received a grant to fix my smile from The Change A Life Foundation and Tina, my case worker, arranged for her personal dentist to do the work at no cost.
Staff at Casa de Amparo genuinely care about us and they go out of their way to help. Kids in the program can feel that and it means a lot. It’s because of New Directions we have a stable plan for the future.