06 Jun A great opportunity

What is a good student and high school cheerleader doing at the Youth Opportunity Center? In Jessica Italiano’s case, she needed structure and discipline.

Growing up in a single-parent household in Muncie, Jessica’s mother worked six days a week to provide for Jessica and her siblings. Her mother was not always available to enforce the rules as she grew up. Jessica’s response was to act out by skipping school and by the beginning of her junior year she was habitually truant and expelled from school. At age 17 she was court ordered to a six-month program at the YOC.

Most residents would view this situation as the lowest point in their life, but Jessica saw it as a great opportunity. “If I had to go back and change any part of my life, I wouldn’t change that [my time at the YOC] at all,” stated Jessica. “I liked the safe feeling and the structure and the schedule. Knowing the staff that worked with me in my program would be there every single day. I liked being held accountable”

While at the YOC, Jessica held a job and completed her high school equivalency exam. After leaving the YOC, Jessica took a job outside of Indiana before returning to the YOC seven years later as a staff member. Now, more than two decades since her time as a resident at the YOC, Jessica is uniquely equipped to relate to the children she works with each day.

In her nearly ten years working at the YOC, Jessica has learned that “I don’t work with bad kids. These are kids who have had disadvantages and made poor decisions. I say to the kids I work with every day, the only difference between them and me is I have had twenty-five years longer to figure things out.”

Jessica’s story at the YOC continues as she is looking forward to transitioning into a new role as Team Leader for the YOC’s newest program, TRU Harbor. Along with a team of dedicated staff, Jessica will provide comprehensive treatment and services to commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) and juvenile sex trafficking survivors. Jessica is excited about the possibilities and noted the amazing team that has been assembled to serve this unique population of children and the amazing community that has come behind them. “It’s really interesting and exciting to think we have a lot of people rooting for us and for the girls.”

This story is an excerpt, as it appears in the 2016 – 2017 Annual Report. To view the full report click here.