Justin Bell started drinking when he was 10. Before he died of a heart attack three years ago, he told his wife, Kelly Villarreal, that he turned to drinking because of a lack of after-school activities for kids.
“There was nothing out there. He and his friends used to come home everyday and do the same thing: get into the liquor cabinet. Everyday,” she said.
That story is what prompted Villarreal to found Justin’s House, a nonprofit dedicated reaching at-risk youth before they develop a problem with alcohol. The group is still getting its bearings, Villarreal said, trying to establish itself as a place that provides activities that help youth stay connected to their families and community; thereby, Villarreal believes, making them less likely to turn to alcohol.
Toward that end, Justin’s House will hold its second annual fundraiser Sunday, April 24. This year, the group is hosting a chili cook-off 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Elk’s Lodge, 1680 Martin Ave., in Santa Clara. The event will feature $1 tickets which participants can use to vote for their favorite chili, children’s activities, music and raffle prizes.
Villarreal said Justin’s House is looking to raise $5,000. The money will go toward helping the Justin’s House board develop outreach programs as well as assisting in establishing a permanent base of operations for the fledgling organization.
One such event the money will fund is a culinary life skills-building camp where 15 kids will come to the Bill Wilson Center in July. While Justin’s House focuses on alcohol abuse, Villarreal, who is a counselor at Wilcox High School, said her group is not modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step program. Justin’s House is not a treatment center, she added.
“It is really about spending time with 15 kids — communication skills, teamwork, interpersonal skills. We know how powerful it is for kids to cook and to spend time with family,” she said. “We are trying to get to kids before there is a serious problem.”
Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley sits on the Justin’s House board. Like Villareal and the others on the board, she has a background in education. She knew Justin and has seen the damage alcohol can do to families, she said.
In addition to raising money, she said she hopes Justin’s House is able to draw attention to underage drinking and the problems it causes. She said the average boy first tries alcohol at age 11, and the average girl first tries it at 13. When that information is no longer a shock to people, she said she will know their efforts are making a difference.
Part of the reason she believes people want to support Justin’s House is because its board is passionate and also very knowledgeable; both of which are necessary to understanding and addressing a problem.
“You can have a lot of gas in the tank, but if you don’t have wheels on the car, you are not going to go anywhere,” she said.
For more information about Justin’s House and its events contact Kelly Villarreal at 408-644-4256 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.