Just in Time honors local family for commitment to foster youth
Just in Time for Foster Youth will honor the Livingston family, including former longtime Encinitas residents Susanne and Brad Livingston and their daughters, for their dedication to making a difference in the lives of young adults at the organization’s March 14 Walk the Talk gala at Balboa Park. Through the family’s Livingston Foundation, they have supported the Just in Time organization since it began 10 years ago and started Living to Succeed for foster youth in 2011.
For The Livingston Foundation, board meetings are held around a family dinner table headed by “Nonie and Pop.” Founded by grandparents Ron and Sandy Livingston as a way to involve their children and grandchildren in philanthropy, board meetings at the Thanksgiving table consisted of the younger generations pitching the philanthropic ideas that “tugged at their heart the most,” from local foster youth to Darfur.
The board includes the McKay family in Orange County and the Livingstons in San Diego: Ron and Sandy’s son, Brad, and his wife, Susanne, and their grandchildren, Kristin (25) and Lauren (23).
The family tends to shy away from the spotlight. They are humbled by Just in Time’s honor, but also see it as an opportunity to show the positive example set by the Livingston grandparents, three generations committed to giving back. This will be Ron and Sandy’s legacy, said Susanne Livingston.
“If everyone on the planet did this, the world would be such a better place,” she said.
The Livingstons have lived in Rancho Santa Fe for a little over a year, after more than 30 years in Encinitas. Susanne and her husband, Brad, started Residential Wholesale Mortgage in 1994, a “community mortgage banker” that gives residential and retail loans to help people finance homes and investment properties.
The Livingston Foundation founded Learning to Succeed with the help of Casa in Orange County. More than 25 foster youths are involved in the scholarship program and have gone on to become successful college students. Learning to Succeed recently launched locally in San Diego with Voices for Children, and six students are on their way to achieving their scholastic dreams.
Throughout the years, the Livingston Foundation supported a variety of organizations such as Stevens Cancer Center in San Diego, Casa de Amparo and Second Chance. They’ve worked with the Warwick Foundation to provide scholarships for students to attend Santa Fe Christian School and built homes in Tijuana.
“There are so many great causes in San Diego, so each year we took our allocation and gave to those causes,” Susanne Livingston said. “Foster youth became a real passion starting in 2011.”
The Livingstons found out about Just In Time through their business 10 years ago, when the organization was just starting up. A local real estate agent asked whether they had any donations of gently used furniture to help emancipated foster youth set up their first homes.
The Livingstons had become familiar with foster youth issues through their support of San Pasqual Academy and their daughters’ participation in National Charity League. While San Pasqual helped guide foster teens though high school, Just in Time was covering that next step, for youth ages 18 through 26.
Their involvement with Just in Time began with their College Bound program, where foster youth get Target gift cards to help outfit their dorm rooms and prepare to go off to college.
The Livingstons went on a shopping spree with a girl named Veronica and built a relationship with the young student, who had an aptitude for numbers and aspired to be an accountant.
They were able to hire Veronica as an intern for Residential Wholesale Mortgage while she was in school at Cal State San Marcos. After graduation, she was hired to work with them full time before she got a job using her accounting degree.
Veronica just moved into her first home with her husband and newborn baby girl.
Susanne Livingston said it is very rewarding to play a part in helping a foster youth.
“It’s not always a hand out, it’s a hand up, to help them live a better life,” she said. “If we can change the life of just one person at a time, it really makes a difference.”
Just in Time helps young adults take care of themselves financially, and provides professional connections and mentorships as well as helping with basic needs or emergencies, such as when a car breaks down or help is needed to put down a deposit for a first apartment.
Approximately 300 foster youth emancipate from the foster care system each year in San Diego County. Without financial or emotional support, 50 percent will become homeless during their first two years after exiting foster care; 60 percent of girls become pregnant within a few years after leaving; and 50 percent leaving foster care become unemployed.
Livingston said that 70 percent of emancipated teens say they would like to attend college, but less than 50 percent graduate from high school — that’s what makes organizations like Learning to Succeed and Just in Time so important.
“It’s all about developing a relationship with the kids and letting them know that people really care about them and want to help them achieve their educational dreams,” she said. “It’s important to have a community there that can support them, to support these kids when they need our help.”
Just In Time provides a number of classes and programs, Livingston said, but it’s really about putting the young people in touch with role models and mentors who can start relationships that carry on for a long time.
In the Livingstons’ case, they attended the wedding and baby shower for the “bright, energetic, capable” young woman they met that day at Target. And they weren’t the only mentors to have an impact on Veronica’s life — her baby’s godmother is another Just in Time mentor.
Livingston’s daughter, Lauren, still exchanges text messages weekly with a foster youth named Tasha who got a scholarship to UC Berkeley while she was enrolled there.
“It’s all the little pieces that really help. Sometimes you don’t know the extent of your help and what it’s done, but it can mean so much to them,” Susanne Livingston said.
She said Just in Time does a “tremendous” job — but what really has made an impact in San Diego is all of the organizations working together for the benefit of all youngsters in foster care.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Livingston said. “The community has really come together to help San Diego foster youth.”
There are many ways to get involved, from serving as a mentor or participating in the College Bound program as Livingston did. Visit jitfosteryouth.org.
Court-appointed special advocates for foster children are always needed. Visit Voices for Children at speakupnow.org.
Tickets for the March 14 Walk the Talk gala are also available at jitfosteryouth.org.