Family is everything. Right?
For an intelligent nineteen year-old girl, who goes by the name of PJay, nothing could be further from the truth.
Growing up in San Diego County, as one out of 18 siblings, all of whom are half (one parent is non biological), Prea’ Jhana Anderson has spent the majority of her life moving from one abusive parent’s home to the other. Ultimately, ending up in apathetic group homes and foster care.
Today, PJay is one of many displaced youth that have found support in Casa de Amparo, an organization that helps to heal children suffering from abuse or neglect.
PJay recalls her life starting off being surrounded by chaos and abuse, at as early as six or seven.
“I remember being left alone with my other siblings, when my mom went to go give birth to another baby. I was told not to answer the door for anyone. Then, my Dad came over with another guy and told me that it was okay to let him in and that he, was there to help us. I opened the door and he took us. When my mom found out about it, she went crazy!”
PJay says that her mother is a violent and aggressive woman. A heroin and meth user, who has been in and out of jail on drug related charges throughout her entire life. What prompted her father to come over was, during that time, her mom was living with a drug dealer, resulting in the courts decision to place the children into the father’s custody.
“After going from my mother’s to my father’s, I began to think that being abused was normal.”
She says that her Dad was verbally and physically abusive. When someone called to report him, the social workers would report what was said back to him. After hearing that he had been reported, he would beat the one’s that he thought told, and give the other’s candy.
PJay says that she’s spent time with some of her father’s relatives and realized that he too, grew up in an abusive household, and that being abusive was all that he knew.
Eventually, she said out of despair, the kids just stopped reporting the incidents. She even says that a friend’s mom reported the abuse, and nothing ever came of it.
In 2008, at age eleven is when she recalls the painful experience of living with her father, a man who she describes as someone coming from a cycle of abuse, going from bad, to worse.
One night, a cousin who was also living in the home fought with PJay’s Dad, over the Internet. “My Dad became violently angry and began to fight, which resulted in him pushing me down a flight of stairs of a two story house.”
He continued to beat her when she landed at the bottom of the stairs, giving her a concussion.
Her cousin’s actions are what allegedly caused the fight, scaring her (the cousin), into running away. After being out all night past curfew, eventually she was picked up by the San Diego Police during a teen sweep. She explained to the officers what happened and, they took her back to the house.
The next day, PJay remembers starting off as being a normal day. “It was if nothing had happened. I helped take care of my younger siblings, which is something that I love doing. Us kids were dropped off at school and, the next thing I knew, we were asked to come into the principals office.”
From there, she says the kids were sent to a holding room and eventually placed in Foster Care. PJay hasn’t seen her father since 2008. She’s received letters from her mother but wasn’t allowed to respond.
After being removed from her fathers house, and into foster care and group homes, sadly, life wasn’t much better. She says the problem was, that being surrounded by many other angry kids is what turned her into an aggressive and angry kid who wanted to fight and yell at everyone.
“We would ask for help and they would say that they wanted to help, but they only medicated us. I stopped taking the medication because it made me gain weight.”
Consequently, being under medication and accumulated anger led to her getting kicked out of a first group home for trying to decapitate a former boyfriend, she says.
Despite being bounced from different foster and group homes, PJay managed to graduate from high school, with grades that earned her a full ride into Ashford University in Iowa.
Though she enjoyed being away at college, she admits that she was not quite prepared to be so far away from one brother in particular, and friends who she’s very close to. “Holidays I felt really disconnected. I had a friend who passed away and at the same time I became a target of bullying, and tried to end my life.”
Distraught with grief, and fragile over the death of her friend, she decided that it was best to return to Oceanside and continue taking classes online.
Without a place to call home, the non-minor dependent of the state, learned that she could possibly be eligible for a temporary housing program. She applied and was accepted into Casa de Amparo’s New Directions Program.
The New Directions program houses kids, ages 18 to 25, who are foster and former foster youth, in a transitional housing program that provides youth with the necessary skills and resources to assist with making a successful transition from foster care to independent living.
PJay says the program has made a big difference in her life. She feels safe and has fewer worries about food, and having a place to sleep. Casa Kids are furnished with a bed, dressers, food and a kitchen set. In addition, the program is equipped with a food pantry that is fully stocked for the residents to help themselves to even once they leave the program.
Once the students leave the program, they get to take furnishings with them to help with starting a new life.
When asked how are you doing now? She says, “I’m still kind of overwhelmed and stressed out. I have my days when I feel like know one really cares. Right now, I’m really focused on getting a job. Casa de Amparo is helping me to look for employment.”
Currently living in Oceanside, one of her main concerns is getting transportation to job interviews. One of her goals is to get direction on how to start a nonprofit organization that helps foster youth get transportation for the specific purpose of looking for work.
Clear and determined, Prea’Jhana Anderson, says that her end goal, is to earn a masters in social work, along with a degree in early childhood education. “One day I want to open up a daycare, pre-school and a group home. I either want one or the other, or both.”
PJay finds solace in working with children, writing poetry, cooking and singing.
One of her favorite songs is the upbeat and positive, “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer. Although she says if you ask anybody, they’ll tell you that her favorite singer is Adele.
“As for cooking, I love cooking for guests! It’s my coping skill and is very calming to me. I really have to focus and maintain a positive attitude to cook great food.”
PJ will be among three other Casa de Amparo’s former foster care youth, who will participate in, and benefit from the organizations upcoming annual signature fundraising event, Meet the Chefs. The spectacular food and wine event will take place on Sunday, April 26, 2015 at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar.
For more information on programs and Meet the Chef visit Casa de Amparo.org.