Alcoholism and drug abuse are ugly demons, causing a life-long struggle to attempt to break free from addiction. Reasons for starting to use are varied, but they all lead down a path of self-destruction, including fragmented relationships and a broken self-esteem; but there is hope.
Justin’s House, named after Executive Director Kelly Villarreal’s late husband Justin Bell, empowers “kids to choose a better way to live” and held its “coming out party” on March 25 at Santa Clara’s Fiorillo’s restaurant, giving the community an opportunity to learn about the organization and support its efforts.
“[Justin] told me once that he wished there had been a place he could have gone when he was young when things became unbearable, too crazy, too chaotic; a safe place with support and people who could help him to sort things out; to give him strength and encouragement,” said Villarreal. “Maybe he would have stopped drinking. Maybe he would have made different choices and life wouldn’t have been so hard … I truly believe that creating Justin’s House is the right thing to do. Although the task is daunting and our goals are lofty, we are passionate about the possibilities and the desire to empower kids to choose a better way to live.”
Justin’s House plans on serving students age 11 to 15, but will provide continuing support for older students who were once part of the program by giving them a short-term place to stay as they continue on a path of recovery.
“We do this through the Justin’s House culture and community,” said board member Jennifer Dericco; “Through counseling services and workshops [and] through guest speakers and active participation in the operation of a café and providing them wilderness experiences, such as backpacking, river rafting and a summer camp each year.”
The Flying Pig Café and Camp Penelope are two of the more important aspects of Justin’s House. Inspired by a glass, winged pig Villarreal found at Pier 1 Imports, “Penelope” has become the organization’s mascot. “With her headstrong determination and good fortune, Penelope is the perfect depiction of overcoming impossible odds,” reads the note accompanying the figurine. “Her personal wager against anyone using the phrase, “When pigs fly,” has brought much abundance and prosperity indeed.”
In addition to speakers, a raffle and live auction filled with unique offerings, like a 10-person private dinner catered by two of Villarreal’s former culinary students at Wilcox High School, was held. Rizi Manzon (’98) and Jarrell Fedalizo (’06), who made a s’more-inspired dessert for the occasion, stood in front of the room as the auction continued to creep up, resulting in a $560 donation (well over the $300 starting bid) to Justin’s House.
“[Alcoholism] is a mental obsession coupled with a physical allergy that we get as kids. We because we want to be different or it changes the way we feel and it’s really important that we try to get into the schools,” said Bell’s sponsor, Gary Celgar, who spoke at the event. “We try to get to the families – anywhere we can and that’s why I think [Justin’s House] is a great idea.”
To get started, Justin’s House needs three things: a house to serve as the organization’s hub, van to transport kids, and commercial property to run the café. In addition, Justin’s House is looking for businesses to partner with and individuals willing to donate their time or services.
“The support,” said board member Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, “from folks in the room was overwhelming to me … I believe everyone has something that they can give to this project.”