A Success Story
Joy Junction Gives Homeless Kids a Place for Structure, Stability,Support
by Rebecca RoyballAs you walk through the metal double doors of the sleeping area at Joy Junction, you're greeted with what you might expect to see at any shelter for the downtrodden: tattered sofas, tattered people.
Men and women are curled in fetal positions on the sofas, clinging to some temporary comfort. Backpacks and duffel bags are strewn on the floor.
It's dingy and drab, and the last thing you expect to see is 5-year-old Tylen Rosette or her sister Kristina, 8.
The girls are waiting in the dining half of the big room, which Joy Junction staff members call "The Multi." They are waiting for their mother, Cheryl Rosette, to bring their supper, burritos or macaroni with tomato sauce.
For Tylen and Kristina and 30 other children on this chilly night, Joy Junction is home.
This is the only shelter in town that boards homeless families and children. Joy Junction will serve more than 7,000 people this year; about 2,300 of them,or one-third, will be children.
New Mexico requires that children under 17 attend school, and Joy Junction makes sure parents enroll their children.
After staff noticed that the younger children seemed to get lost in the shuffle while parents looked for work, Joy Junction staff decided to do something about it. So the nursery was established.
The nursery is a safe refuge where the little ones attend Bible study, get tutoring sessions and make friends, says Jeremy Reynalds, Executive Director of Joy Junction.
The nursery is an old three-bedroom house, complete with kitchen, den and restroom. Sister Darlene Ashley, who runs the nursery, makes the nursery a place children want to visit. Unlike some other rooms at Joy Junction, each room here is cheerful and the walls are splashed with bright colors. Most days, the nursery is buzzing with little ones.
"We concentrate on just having fun. It's a place the kids can call their own," says Ashley. It's also the one place kids can be kids while mom and dad figure out what to do next.
After supper and before lights-out at 9p.m, the children -- whether they're in first grade or high school -- flock to the nursery for help with homework from Cassie Schepman, a fourth-grade teacher at Barcelona Elementary, and Julie Sakura, a fifth-grade team teacher at Carlos Rey Elementary.
The tutors try to provide as much stability and continuity as possible because, more likely than not, the children will not finish the school. At times, students disappear from the school system for months.
After lunch, Bessie Walker, 16, fights a headache during English class. Walker, who lives at Joy Junction with her mother and younger sister, is pregnant.
Sixteen-year-old Bessie Walker says sharing a room at Joy Junction with her sister and their mother, Victoria Walker, is one of the easier parts of being homeless. Never mind that the sisters used to have their own bedrooms.
Two years ago, the Walkers left Mattoon, Illinois -- where Bessie was in choir and active in her church group -- and moved to Albuquerque. After a string of tough times in Illinois -- dad left and their mobile home burned down -- they encountered more hard times in Albuquerque.
Initially, they moved to Albuquerque to help Victoria's brother, who was sick. But by the time they arrived, her brother had died. Very quickly, their housing arrangement collapsed, Victoria says.
"We were living with someone doing crack and shooting up his veins, so we came here." They moved to Joy Junction two months ago, and Victoria signed on with the Christ in Power Program. She takes life skills classes and has a job on the grounds gathering donation drop-offs. In Illinois, she did some home nursing.
" I like my job. It's a nice place to be," she says. " The program teaches you patience with yourself and patience with others. I feel like I need to stay here for now. I finally found someone that needs something I can offer. I finally feel useful."
"I like living here even if it's one room," she says. "I've had my own room but...I don't really care. It doesn't matter to me if we're in a house or one room, because there's a lot more people here that care."
Bessie's baby boy is due in March and she plans to keep the baby with her at Joy Junction. The Walkers can stay there until next fall. After that, they're not sure what they will do.
Is she worried about her baby's future? "Not really," she says. "He's going to have me and my mom to put up with."
Over a supper of faded burritos, green beans and a wedge of swirled cheesecake in the cafeteria, Bessie talks about the difficulty her 12-year-old sister has with name-calling in middle school. Mean kids have been known to call residents of Joy Junction, Joy Junkers.
Bessie never takes off the dream catcher she wears wrapped around her wrist. It's for her baby. And most everywhere she goes, she carries her baby's ultrasound photos in a pocket-size photo album.
"See, this is his leg...and here's his arm," she says.
During a noisy speech class at Rio Grande High School, she looks for a poem for her oral interpretation assignment. Bessie is nearly six months along and has gained only 10 pounds, but she says she's "really showing." With her over-sized jacket and super-baggy pants, you'd never guess.
"He's fine," Bessie says rubbing her belly. "The baby's been kicking. That makes it hard to sleep."
She and her former boyfriend had been dating for four months when she found out she was pregnant. She broke up with him a few months ago, when he wouldn't acknowledge being the father.
Next month, she has plans on attending Technical Vocational Institute to get her GED. "That'll be a lot easier instead of going to school with the baby and everything," she says.
She dreams about someday running a day-care center or being a pediatrician. "Whenever I was a little girl, I didn't want to grow up," Bessie says. "I said, 'I don't want to be a teen-ager.' So I wouldn't go to sleep because I know you grow when you sleep."
But now, like it or not, she is a teen-ager, and she says what makes it tolerable is knowing she has had a "good childhood."
Bessie insists that not having a permanent address hasn't been hard on her. "Being here, it's like, it's better than having your own place," she says. "It's safer. There's no way you could get hurt here. No drugs, no alcohol. When we didn't live here, I didn't feel as safe as here."
'Mister Rogers' Time
Cheryl Rosette and her girls have lived at Joy Junction for five months as part of a year-long program that offers Cheryl classes on life and job skills.
The Christ in Power Program allows the family to have its own room at Joy Junction for the year, providing some sorely needed continuity in the girls'lives. Kristina and Tylen are among the few kids from Joy Junction who will attend the same school all year.
Each morning starting at 3 a.m, Cheryl helps cook breakfast for the 100 to 150 people at the shelter.
She takes a brief break at 7 a.m. to wake her girls up. She gently nudges them; Kristina pulls a pillow over her head, but Tylen springs out of bed. Mister Rogers is singing on the small black-and-white TV.
The girls are still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes when Cheryl has to leave to go back to work in the kitchen.
For the next few minutes, they get their shoes on and gather their school books. Tylen has three favorite stuffed animals, but only one gets to go to school with her. "PC" the cat rides along in her backpack. Garfield and Elmo stay home today.
Just before they leave to meet their mother in the cafeteria, Kristina rummages through her backpack looking for something. "Orange jelly beans," says Tylen in a sing-song tattle-tale voice. "Kristina likes orange jelly beans."
Outside, the cold air carries the odor of sewage from the nearby South Valley treatment plant. Hand-in-hand with mom, the girls bustle down the driveway to the bus stop.
By 10 a.m. at Mountain View Elementary School, Kristina's young eyes look tired, as though they have already seen too much for the day. All morning, she wears her hot pink jacket in the stuffy classroom, as if she's ready to leave on a moment's notice. It's not very often that she laughs, but when she does her face lights up.
"She needs lots of encouragement and reinforcement," says Donna Platt, a University of New Mexico student teacher.
Kristina's teacher, Shannon Nipper, teaches many children from Joy Junction. "A lot of times they don't stay because the family's real mobile," she says. "I already had two kids that came and left."
But Cheryl, 36, says she is determined to keep her kids at Mountain View through the school year."I'm trying to keep my nose clean so I can stay."
The Christ in Power Program teaches participants money management, how to apply for a job and how to deal with people, says Chris Dooley, the manager of Joy Junction. After the school year ends, Cheryl hopes to get a job in an office, possibly data entry or cashiering.
This is her second stay at Joy Junction.The first time, she and the girls and her 13-year-old son stayed for 2 1/2 weeks. Since then, her son ran away.
"I didn't think we'd be back," she says. " I was doing my best to work things out." But she returned to Joy Junction after her apartment's electricity was cut off for lack of payment.
Cheryl is a native of Albuquerque, but didn't want to ask for help from her family or friends. She says she wanted to make a fresh start on her own. The only way she figured she could clean up her habit of excessive "partying" was to get away from her surroundings, she says.
"I wanted to quit, and I knew I couldn't if I stayed there," she says, "Now I've been clean for five months.
"I told the girls that as long as we're together, we're at home. They're happy here.
"Kristina really helps me out. She helps me find clothes ( for Tylen ).She brushes Ty's hair. It teaches her responsibility. She's real responsible.
"I guess I was a displaced homemaker when I came out here," Cheryl says. "I'm really thankful that I have this place to come to."
Their plans for the holidays are simple: They will be staying "home."
"I think I'd rather just spend it here," Rosette says. "This is home. Even though people come and go. This is family. I requested Christmas morning off. I want to spend it here."
For more information, visit the Joy Junction web site at http://www.joyjunction.org
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