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Foster program 'saves' teen

After drug addiction, Johnston aiming to be veterinarian
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Lauren Johnston, of Loomis, has overcome some huge hurdles in her young life. The 18-year-old was a drug-addicted, troubled teen and now she is heading to college to become a veterinarian. Lauren is an example of the success stories of foster care. Lauren said she was being raised by a single mom who held down three jobs to make ends meet. According to Lauren, she started smoking marijuana when she was 11 or 12 and later progressed to methamphetamines. She said she started stealing to support her drug addiction. “My whole life went to dust. I didn’t have a care or feeling for anything. I ran away at 16,” she said. In and out of jail and juvenile hall, her life was saved when a judge ordered her into a group home and her parole officer recommended her to the Koinonia Family Services. “I don’t know where I’d be without Koinonia … I would be dead now or wrapped up in my addiction,” Lauren said. This month, she has graduated high school and the Koinonia program simultaneously and is ready to begin her new life and pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. She will be attending Sierra College in spring. Lauren recently won an award for a piece of art she created to depict her idea of foster care creating a “Lifetime of Love: the importance of friends, family and belonging.” Her colorful artwork depicts two hands – tracings of her hand and that of another teen in Koinonia Foster Homes – outspread above a heart and childlike stick figures holding hands. Her artwork is featured on the cover of the 2010 calendar produced by the California Child Welfare Co-investment Partnership. “My thoughts when I made the piece were that the hands are those of people willing to help the kids in foster care. With the right kind of love, they (the kids) can go so far,” she said. Lauren has reunited with her mother and they have gone through family counseling. “My family has forgiven me. They’ve given me amazing support,” she said. Lauren said that more families are needed to provide help for children in foster care. “I had the support of my family to help me through this, a lot of kids don’t. Juvenile Hall does not provide the support or teach kids how to live their life a different way,” she said. Lauren will be going to college with her mentor and friend, Jessica Conklin, Koinonia school supervisor and childcare counselor. Lauren said her “goal in life is to run my own therapeutic horse ranch and to help children who face all kinds of challenges.” Jennifer Minyard is the facilities supervisor for one of Koinonia’s group homes in Loomis. She said that the organization has a need for “people who are willing to be there for kids who complete the Koinonia program.” “The kids still need support when they leave,” Minyard said. Minyard also said that children come to their program with literally “just the clothes on their back.” “We could use gift cards for clothing for them,” she said. Joni Pictl, director the child welfare partnership, said there are 62,000 children and youth “waiting for families of their own.” She also stressed the importance of “love and belonging for foster children.” “There is an urgent need to create and sustain permanent connections for all foster children and youth,” Pitcl said. Pictl said Lauren’s artwork “thrilled” judges. She said her submission “portrays the love that is found when surrounded by family.” For more information, call Koinonia at 652-0171. ----------------- Koinonia Family Services Operates three group homes and a school in Loomis for foster teens, also provides adoption and foster care placement Needs: Volunteers to help mentor graduates of their group home program, gift cards to purchase clothing for teens, families to give a home to children and youth in foster care Contact: 652-0171 Information: www.kfh.org