Reclining casually in a loveseat at The Hub — Santa Clara County’s drop-in center for foster youth — Tony Mora, 23, talks of growing up hostile, with little to care about and something to prove.
He was in and out of juvenile hall and jail despite a caring foster home and, in a tale that’s common to many of the hundreds served at the “by us, for us” one-stop services shop, it was The Hub that turned his life around.
And, like his cohorts at the home-away-from-home, Mora’s elated about the news that the county is upgrading their digs, with supervisors unanimously approving the purchase of a permanent center on Parkmoor Avenue near San Jose City College.
“You should have seen some of them, they were doing the happy dance!” said Briana Saldivar, 25, a youth engagement specialist and former foster kid who was one of the founding members of The Hub when it opened in 2011. “They would ask about the parking lot, the bushes — ‘Is it ours?’ And I said it was, and we can do the things we want to do with it.”
Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who proposed buying the new space, said that’s the spirit that The Hub was founded on.
The Hub is a community resource center for youths located on North King Road in San Jose, California. It remains open Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, where it will stay until relocating sometime in the next couple years to a location on Parkmoor Avenue. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
“These were kids with a high level of need and a low level of social support,” she said. “When I was elected I went down there to see The Hub, and it was a good thing, with young people there all very open with what their problems were, what they needed. And that was nothing fancy — they just wanted a fridge. It took them forever to get a sink and a stove.”
Chavez said that once they started talking about it, “they realized the space wasn’t really designed for them” and the county has been working to locate a site more ideal for a youth center.
The new center, purchased for $6 million earlier this month, will be part of a 22,000-square-foot, four building complex at the intersection of Parkmoor and Meridian avenues. In addition to more recreation and hangout space for kids, the campus will have classrooms and office space for the support staff for all aspects of The Hub as well as the county’s Independent Living Program.
It’s better suited than the current location on N. King Road both for freeway access and public transit routes. The triangular 1.6 acre parcel includes about 80 parking spaces. Currently 8,400 square feet is empty, with another 4,000 square feet expected to be vacated by mid-2018. Officials don’t expect to have all King Road components transferred to the new center until 2019 although some services could be phased over before then.
Saldivar said the kids want a place that looks less like a government center and more like a home and while the new place is a late 1970s office park, it’s got more potential for that than the current leased space.
“The great thing about this is that we get to start from scratch,” Chavez said. “We can do more. The Hub is a safe place, this will be a better safe place, with caring adults for vulnerable kids who might not have caring adults around.”
Just as important as adults, said Hub youth engagement specialist Christina Anaya, are the peers. She was a chronic runaway when she was in the foster system, going through several homes, and found solace at the old county children’s shelter on Roberts Avenue in San Jose that operated in the 1980s.
“I knew that if I went back there there would be other youth who knew what I was going through,” said Anaya, now 40. “There would be people there who get it.”
Mora rattles off his numbers. Two strikes. Eight felonies. Nineteen misdemeanors and four infractions, many with gang enhancements. Drugs and fights, getting shot at in Mountain View and East Palo Alto and stabbed with an 8-inch knife in San Jose. Mora’s eyes are at half-lid but lucid, his voice even as he describes having gasoline dumped on his leg and set alight when he was about 13.
“Third-degree burns on my thigh, bro,” he said. “It was just gang stuff, you know.”
It wasn’t until he was an adult that he got involved with The Hub, where his life was turned around in a way that had foiled rehabilitation through juvenile hall and jail, probation and parole, even through foster parents who Mora said “never gave up” despite his repeated recidivism. These days, Mora’s got a job with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and taking business classes at San Jose City College.
“This place opened the doors for me,” he said. “And that opened up a lot — I just got off parole, I’m working, I get paid well, I’m going to school, staying busy, not hanging out with the people I used to. Staying in a suitable household, within the rules and my privilege to be there.”