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Program giving helping hand to displaced teens, young adults in Ventura County needs help itself

Tabitha Turner

Homes With Heart Ventura County looking for families, mentors to help.

Lizzy Clews is an ambitious single mother in Ventura County. Clews is working to help troubled teens, while going to college to become a teacher.

But, her story could have been much different. She spent her childhood in a dysfunctional home.

"I was placed in out-of-home care at the age of 15," said Clews. "I lived in two group homes nearly 400 miles apart, and went to 13 different high schools," said the now 27-year-old woman. "Everything I owned fit into a garbage bag."

Clews says it felt pretty hopeless at times. What she needed was an adult who believed in her, and would be there to provide support. When she was 17, she found that mentor.

"I had a huge distrust in adults," said Clews. "I was fortunate enough to meet someone who really made a mark on me," she said. "It's important to meet the youth and where they are at, and he was a pro at that."

But, there isn’t enough support to meet the need in Ventura County, especially for older youth like teenagers. One of the biggest issues is with what you probably know as foster care. It isn’t called that anymore.

"Foster has such a negative connotation among many people, especially our older youth," said Liz Thiele. She and her husband are what's known as Resource Parents.

They've opened their Moorpark home to kids in need for more than a decade. They've worked with about 50 teens and young adults, and taken in about ten.

She admits it’s harder to get families to help older youth, because of legitimate concerns ranging from substance abuse to mental health issues. But, she says getting to know the teens, or young adults opens the door to seeing their strengths, and working past the issues.

Ventura County Children and Family Services is actively seeking more families to help through its Homes With Heart VC program. The need for support is critical. 30% of emancipated youth end up homeless, and 25% end up in jail. The support of families, and mentors can be life changing.

Clews says having that support changed her life, and helped give her a direction.

She's finishing up at Ventura College, and is transferring to UC Santa Cruz in the fall to work towards becoming a teacher. And, she's also working for the Ventura County Office of Education to help at-risk teens.

While she could have put her difficult years in the past, she tells her story in the hope of helping others.

Thiele says it’s been incredible to be able to have been there to support Lizzie Clews, and other teens and young adults start to build futures for themselves.

She says getting to know her has helped her, and her family become more loving, more kind, more patient, and better human beings.

Find out more about Homes With Heart-Ventura County.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.