James is a twenty-three year old student at Bluegrass Community & Technical School (BCTC). He’s also employed part-time at Star Manufacturing Inc. here in Lexington. What initially started out as a temporary summer internship has now grown into a contracted position. Thanks to a kind mentor and co-worker, James has learned the basics of the welding profession.
He’s passionate and ambitious about welding, hoping to one day be an underwater welder, and loving every minute he gets hands-on experience at his job. He’s soaked up so much knowledge at Star that he’s even ahead of his classmates at school. When he’s not studying or working, he enjoys playing video games with his twin brother at the apartment they share. At a first look, James’ promising future and even head on his shoulders would give you no clue to the hardships of his youth.
Born in Paducah, Kentucky, James was placed into foster care at the age of 2. Family adopted him at the age of 6, but he had a rough history with his family, particularly his father, and ended up in a state care facility at the age of thirteen, and then back in the foster care system by sixteen. James uses the word “incarceration” when referring to this period in his life, the tone of his voice entirely in earnest. For five years of his teenhood, James lived all over Kentucky from foster home to foster home. He ran away numerous times from a home in Sonora, and was eventually kicked out. Having nowhere to stay and seeking independence, his case managers drove him to Lexington, and he decided to go to The Hope Center, a local shelter. Three days later, James was referred to The Jacobs House, which is an extension of the care provided by The Hope Center. The Jacobs House has bedrooms with bunks, locked storage areas and closed showers, and compared to the completely communal sleeping areas at the main shelter, James found this to be a fortuitous upgrade. But since this was only a temporary housing unit, James had to move out and into permanent housing after a few months. At Arbor Youth, he has truly been adopted into a continuum of care that has sustained his livelihood for the past five years.
Now, at twenty-three, he’s completely liberated from the State’s care and is living independently, but his twin is still under guardianship. “I can’t wait to get my brother off of guardianship and help him get his life together. Hopefully by then, I’ll truly be in a place where I can help him and make sure he’s being taken care of.” They live together in a 2-bedroom apartment in Lexington. After a childhood full of temporary housing and unkind caregivers, it’s a reprieve for James to live with his twin, his favorite roommate as of yet. But he hopes that soon he’ll be able to live on his own.
Arbor Youth has been James’ lifeline in his young adulthood. When he first arrived at the facility, Housing Coordinator Chris helped him set up his social security, so he could pay for housing and a phone. After securing housing at nineteen, the team worked on finding him work and affordable schooling. Chris has also worked with him personally on his social and communication skills. “In placements, I would always get in trouble because I just didn’t socialize with people, so I was picked on a lot,” James shared.
It’s hard to believe that James used to identify as socially dysfunctional and shy, as he is an engaged conversationalist and exudes only friendliness in his speech. James is open about his mental health journey, and recounts how any time he’s felt suicidal, Chris has encouraged him to come back to the Arbor Youth building and get the care he needs. The team still meets today to manage his finances and talk about life. After their meetings, Chris or another Arbor Youth employee either drives him home or pays for his Uber. The fridge at Arbor Youth is always stocked, and the washing machine and showers are always available. It’s compassionate care like this that makes Arbor Youth a successful mission to end youth homelessness in the community. Lex End Homelessness is committed to promoting service partners like Arbor Youth in our mission to end homelessness in Lexington. Get involved with Lex End Homelessness by visiting our website, joining the Continuum of Care, donating to the Lex End Homelessness campaign, or by following us on social media @lexendhomelessness.