OCEANSIDE — Ken Walworth, 19, says his family was financially stable until his parents broke up six years ago. Since then his mother and four siblings have lived in six homes in three states, settling in Oceanside. A concerned uncle paid for the family to stay at a cheap motel for a year. During that time the children discovered StandUp for Kids, a nonprofit for homeless and at-risk youth.
“They helped me write a resume which helped me get a job a year ago,” Ken remembers, adding that he can now focus on his dream of studying linguistics at MiraCosta College.
Sister Rebecca, 12, is also excelling. She brought her grades back up to As.
“StandUp for Kids gave us a place to do our homework,” she said. “After high school, I’d like to join the Marine Corps.”
StandUp for Kids was founded in San Diego by Naval Officer Richard (Rick) L. Koca, Sr., who was inspired after seeing a “48 Hours” segment on homeless and street kids in Southern California.
Kim Goodeve-Green serves as director of center operations in Oceanside. She’s seen changes since she began five years ago when clients were primarily 18-year-olds exiting the foster care system.
“I’ve seen more young kids and families living in motels due to the recession,” she said. “They don’t have basics like food, clothing and school supplies. They come to us for those needs.”
Kids pay for services by signing up for a chore each time they visit the center, which is only open from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Goodeve-Green would like to extend the days of operation but says there aren’t enough volunteers.
The agency serves about 40 kids each night with a hot meal and an opportunity to pick up necessities, surf the Internet, meet with friends, or inquire about school, jobs, housing or counseling.
“There is nothing like this in North County,” Goodeve-Green said. “It’s sad, because there are no soup kitchens open on weekends. Consequently, each kid leaves Thursday night with a food pack to get them through the weekend.”
Goodeve-Green says the majority of kids are involved in prostitution or with drugs and alcohol.
“They are doing bad things to survive,” she said. “But for three hours they don’t have to be what they are outside. When they are here, they let their ‘kid’ out.”
She is fueled by the successes, particularly a 14-year-old homeless boy whose mother was an addict.
“He graduated from high school, is now in college, and just applied for a scholarship with the Culinary Institute of America,” she said, beaming. “He is like the ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ kid. Nothing will stop him.”
Another participant graduated with a real estate license, and is married today and starting a family.
“It’s hard to know how you may impact them,” she said. “It may be something you say that clicks with them that, ‘Maybe I’m special. Maybe I’m better than this.’”
The organization is run solely by volunteers and community donations, with no government grants.
The Gumpert Foundation underwrites the overhead. Other companies making a difference include ViaSat, Viking Construction, Life Technologies and Home Depot (on Highway 76).
The National Charity League, North Coast Calvary Church, North Coast Church, Kiwanis-Oceanside and the Carlsbad Junior Women’s Club provide meals. Happy Quilters knit beanies and scarves for the kids.
“We are very, very lucky,” Goodeve-Green said. “Every penny goes to the kids — for food, apartment support, school support and clothing. There are hair stylists who donate their time.”
Julia King is an eighth-grade language arts teacher who serves as the center leader on Mondays. She is frustrated that they can’t do more.
“Kids can get jobs but they can’t always keep them because there’s no transportation,” she said. “We used to purchase bus tickets but we are low on money.”
To volunteer or make a donation, contact Goodeve-Green at (760) 433-5437 or visit standupforkids.org. In addition to money, there is an immediate need for new socks and boxer shorts.
The seventh annual Switchfoot Bro-Am event benefitting StandUp for Kids will be held at Moonlight Beach on June 18. For more information, visit switchfoot.com/switchfoot/p/broam.