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Former homeless teenager graduates from law school

TEGNA Foundation Community Grant given to non-profit 'Doors of Change' for helping 2,600 young adults break cycle of homelessness.

ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Community outreach is a big part our mission at CBS 8, which is why the owner of our station provides TEGNA Foundation Community Grants to those who make a difference. 

In this Zevely Zone, I had a surprise for the non-profit organization Doors of Change and their greatest success story ever. 

This is a story about how a 12-year-old girl went from sleeping in a park to graduating from law school. Justine Bethel at the age of 12 escaped the abuse of a stepfather in the middle of the night. "I did yeah. It was awful, a very toxic environment," said Justine.

Credit: Doors of Change: Justine Bethel

She was homeless from age 12 to 16, until she found the non-profit organization Doors of Change. "I'll never forget Justine because she is the only person who didn't look at me in the eye. She tried to commit suicide twice," said Jeffrey Sitcov, founder of Doors of Change. 

Jeffrey helped Justine launch a successful jewelry business that helped her pay for an education. "I've never seen a youth in 21 and half years ever have such a change from where I have met her to where she is now.

Credit: Doors of Change: Justine Bethel

Justine not only graduated from UC Santa Barbara with honors, but she also just graduated from law school. "Anything is possible, in her life now, anything is possible with hard work," said Jeffrey. “We are so proud of her. With help from the community, more homeless youth can achieve their own goals and become role models for many other teens, as proof that the cycle can be broken."

Credit: Doors of Change: Justine Bethel & Jeffrey Sitcov

Doors of Change (A 501C3 organization) proudly announced that this is the first time in over 21 years that they have placed 349 youth in safe housing in a year. They have also reached another milestone of helping place over 2,600 homeless youth in safe housing since 2001. 

With nearly 3.5 million homeless youth across America, Doors Of Change is now celebrating twenty-one years of outreach, working with other cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Buffalo, Washington DC and more.

Justine's comeback story is truly remarkable. In order to help Jeffrey continue to help more homeless youth, the TEGNA Foundation is proud to present a community grant for $5,000. 

"Oh, that's fantastic. Thank you so much," said Jeffrey as I handed him the check. "This is going to help more youth get off the streets this year," said Jeffrey. "We helped 788 youth this past year, let's help a thousand next year."

Credit: Doors of Change: TEGNA Foundation Community Grant recipient

The TEGNA Foundation supports nonprofit organizations in communities served by TEGNA Inc. The Community Grant program serves to address local community needs. As community needs differ by region, please check with your local Community Grant contact to learn what needs are being addressed in your area. Community Grants commonly support areas such as education, youth development, hunger, emergency assistance to families and individuals in crisis, and environmental conservation.

"They lifted me up and I haven't stopped going up because of that one push that I needed to get out of the bad environment," said Justine who offered this message to other young adults facing challenges. "You can do it too, I mean any of us can do it the thing is to find the people that you can surround yourself with that will help you get out of that situation," said Justine.  

A benefit concert featuring Ben Harper on September 9 hopes to raise money to fight our county's homeless youth problem. I will emcee the Doors of Change 'Concert of Hope' featuring Ben Harper at the Epstein Family Amphitheater at UCSD on September 9. For ticket information or to make a donation click here.

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