by Donna McBride, Program Administrator/PIO and Supervisor for the CASA Unit, Pinal County Juvenile Court, Casa Grande City Councilwoman

sit in the back of the room for most of my classes. I figure I won’t be noticed by the other kids that way. And if I’m lucky, the teachers won’t call on me. The less I’m noticed, the safer I will be.

It’s been a tough summer. Most 15-year-old kids like school being out. Not me. No summer vacation, sleeping in, playing video games or going to the movies. My summer break has been filled with trying to stay out of the heat, find something to eat at least once a day and get some water. At least when there’s school I know I can get breakfast and lunch and some relief from the Arizona heat.

I’m not homeless. But I am home-less. My dad hasn’t been around for years now. Who knows where he is, and honestly, I don’t care. My mom has done her best, at least for a couple years. Then, I think she just got tired. Tired of working two jobs, keeping food on the table, watching out for me. I don’t remember when she stopped trying. She would tell me she was working late, but I could smell the beer on her when she got in. Then she would skip coming home for a couple days at a time. For my 13th birthday, she offered me some pot since I was “a teenager.” I didn’t smoke it. She said I was almost an adult, so I was on my own.

To give her credit, at least she makes sure to pay the trailer rent that includes utilities. No air or swamp cooler but running water. Everything else is on me. I can’t remember the last time she brought groceries home. I don’t worry about it during the school year because I get free meals. And on Fridays, I stash part of my food in my bag so I will have something over the weekend. By Monday morning though, my stomach is growling like crazy. If I get someone to let me do an odd job, I save the money for food.

I don’t steal food because, well, it’s wrong. And the stores have cameras nowadays. I don’t need trouble with the cops. I do admit that I have rummaged through alley trash or those donation bins for clothes. I figure if people are getting rid of them anyway, it’s not exactly stealing, right? I take them home and clean them up. I wash my clothes in the bathtub and let them hang out to dry. During the wintertime, I use an old hair dryer I found to help dry them.

I don’t join clubs at school because most of them cost money in some way. But I offer to help some of my teachers after school. Nothing special, just little things around their room. But it sure beats going home to nothing, to nobody. And they sometimes have snacks in their desk that they share.

There are other kids like me in school. We don’t talk to each other – but we know who we are. Some get made fun of, bullied. We don’t take up for each other. It would bring attention to us, and it just isn’t worth it. I do think some of my teachers have suspected because of the questions they ask me. And the fact that my mom has never showed up for parent-teacher conferences. It was all I could do to get her to go with me to register for high school. I keep my grades up so there isn’t a reason for them to call her.

They say everyone has a story. My name is Jake and this is mine. I have a home, but not really. I am quiet, not because I am shy, but because I am afraid for someone to find out about how I live. If they take me away, I may end up someplace that is worse. This isn’t the best, but at least I know what to expect. If I can make it until I’m 16, then I will get a job and make some money. I can save up to leave after I graduate. To where, I don’t know. But it will be my choice. Right now, I am just trying to survive. So, the next time you see a kid who is sitting alone, checking out an alley, buying a pack of meat at the dollar store, don’t judge. Everybody has a story.