(Above) Jonathan P. (right) stands with Rod Green, OYA transition juvenile parole and probation officer, at his graduation June 10.
Imagine a young man waking up at 4:30 every morning to complete his chores. He then walks four miles of country roads, mostly in the dark, to catch a bus to school. The reverse commute in the evening brings him home a half-hour before bedtime.
While it might sound like a tale a grandparent tells his grandchildren about how life was harder when he was their age, it is actually a true story about 19-year-old Jonathan P., who graduated high school on June 10 and has been offered several scholarships to boot.
Last June, after a year in an Oregon Youth Authority residential treatment program, Jonathan was transferred to an OYA foster care home near Junction City, almost 20 miles away from his hometown of Eugene. The thought of transferring high schools terrified Jonathan, who felt like the alternative high school he had attended, Early College and Career Options (ECCO) High School, had saved him in many ways, as it provided support for him when he was homeless prior to coming to OYA. For example, one teacher had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich station set up in the back of his classroom for any student to use, regardless of the time of day.
“When I went there, it was the first time I realized I actually liked to go to school,” he said. “ECCO is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I went there when I was homeless and they gave me so much support.”
For nearly two years, Jonathan lived in and out of homeless shelters and spent winters living under a bridge before entering OYA care in June 2017.
“Being homeless is how I got some habits that are hard to break,” he laughed as he pulled out of his backpack a large container of peanut butter, multiple hardcover books and baggies of condiments. “I’m used to having a small inventory, a house on my shoulders.”
That resilience he learned while living on the streets was a factor in finishing his education at ECCO, where he maintained a 95 percent attendance rate and completed all his credits by March, three months before graduation.
“If that doesn’t speak to his level of commitment, I don’t know what does,” Priscila Hasselman, his juvenile parole and probation officer, said, adding that he was also named student of the month in February. “He has significant self-initiative. He clearly demonstrated he can make it to places and get things done.”
Jonathan’s determination hasn’t stopped there. Having developed a love for being in the kitchen, he hopes to pursue an education in culinary arts.
“I made a promise to myself to not apply for any (student) loans, so I applied for every scholarship available to me,” he said. “The biggest part is I don’t (want to) live on the street. I don’t want to live my life working in a fast food restaurant. I don’t want to be a low-income family functioning paycheck to paycheck.”
The graduate has received the $3,500-a-year Gilma Greenhoot Scholarship to attend the culinary arts program at Lane Community College, and he was also offered scholarships from two Eugene area Rotary Clubs.
While in his OYA residential program, Jonathan got connected with the Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center’s culinary arts program, where he developed his love for cooking. He’s been employed there ever since, and just got another summer job so that he can now live on his own.
“I think he’ll do well,” Hasselman added. “He’s very accountable. Even when he messes up he comes to me.”
Jonathan said he’s come a long way.
“Before treatment I hated myself; I was not in a good place,” he admitted. “After treatment, I worked through it to have a mostly positive outlook on life. I figure I’ve been through the worst, so if I ever have to face anything like that again, I can get through it.”
His advice for other OYA youth would be to not give up and to accept the treatment programs available to them.
“You need to dedicate yourself to work on (yourself) so you can see changes and you can be a more responsible and productive member of society,” he said. “I definitely changed because of OYA. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m a completely different person. It’s actually kind of remarkable.”
Hasselman credits OYA staff, his counselors, Jonathan’s foster parent, the MLK kitchen staff, and ECCO school staff for helping Jonathan rise to the top.
“This is a true example of how it takes a village to help someone position themselves for success,” she said. “I certainly hope this is just the beginning of great things for Jonathan and an excellent reminder that what we do truly matters!”