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DO GOOD

HEAD OF HOUSE

The new Casa Youth Shelter CEO Jessica Hubbard thrives on making a difference — not for a moment, but for a lifetime

By Allison Hata | Contributor

SUMMER 2023 ISSUE

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Photos credit courtesy of Casa Youth Shelter

Jessica Hubbard has been a middle school teacher. A law school graduate. An intern in the public defender’s office. A higher education compliance officer. Now, she’s CEO of a 45-year-old nonprofit in Orange County, Calif. 

But if you ask about how that unconventional path brought her to the new leadership role at Casa Youth Shelter, don’t expect to hear stories about grit and hard work right off the bat (though there is plenty of that). Instead, she’ll tell you about a moment in a school cafeteria. And that yes — there is a reason to cry over spilled milk. 

“I had a student with cerebral palsy who I taught in my last year before I decided to leave education and this kid was so brilliant; so, so smart. Unfortunately, she was in a wheelchair and she often got mislabeled and placed in improper classes,” Jessica remembers. “I had her after the lunch period and every single day, she’d … have chocolate milk spilled on her pants. I didn’t want to embarrass her, but finally I pulled her aside.”

Turns out, there was no way for that student to lift her lunch tray up to the counter. Muscle spasms would knock her off balance, sending that milk straight into her lap. It lit a fire under Jessica, who was infuriated at the lack of support for special education students at her Florida middle school.

“If you remember middle school at all, you remember just how much you want to blend in,” she says. “The last thing you want is to be embarrassed, humiliated, called out.

“And so I pitched a fit,” she continues. “I made sure she had aid available, but I was like, someone else should be doing this. It shouldn’t be her middle school English teacher.”

That moment and this student, who Jessica still keeps in touch with today, inspired her first career pivot into special education law.

Part of the Solution

Though it’s the only organization providing emergency temporary shelter for kids between Culver City and Huntington Beach, Casa Youth Shelter offers so much more than just housing. As the new CEO, appointed in January 2023, Jessica wants to spread the word about the “more” — specifically its counseling and other therapeutic support services for adolescents in crisis. 

“Shelter is in our name, and it’s so easy to think that’s all we do,” she says. “​The re-education that I'm doing is that we're not designed to solve the housing insecurity issue. Our mission is to support kids in crisis.”

Kids in crisis come to Casa Youth Shelter from all walks of life. Sometimes they’re referred by the police department or social services for a few days before moving to a more permanent placement with a family member. Others are left by their parents, for any number of reasons, and may stay up to the three months that Casa Youth Shelter is licensed to care for them. In those cases, partnerships with other organizations ensure every child can be placed in safe and stable housing on a more long-term basis. But the ultimate goal, for all parties involved, is parent-child reunification. 

Equipped to support kids ages 12 to 17 in a short-term emergency, Casa Youth Shelter focuses on helping them build positive pathways of communication to share their experiences. That includes everything from individual and group therapy to family counseling conducted under the supervision of a fully licensed clinical director. In addition, expressive therapy is offered to help them navigate the healing process, which could look like ukulele classes, sound baths, drum circles or knitting. 

The nonprofit also partners with the Los Alamitos School District to provide mental health services, collaborating with counselors to create a larger care system and team that can serve all students in need. 

“Not every kid is going to need shelter, … but you're going to be really hard-pressed to find kids that aren't going to benefit from mental health services and counseling and therapy,” says Jessica. “[I] know that as an educator, as a mother, as an expert in youth development.”

She also speaks from personal experience. Growing up, Jessica was a youth in crisis, living in poverty as she endured abuse and neglect in her childhood home. 

“I could have been a Casa kid. I wish I would have been a Casa kid,” she says. “I was the kind of kid that really slid under the radar because I was always clean enough and fed. I was a straight-A student, so I didn’t look the way that people thought a crisis youth looked.” 

The weight of that trauma and abuse could break her. But instead, it just fuels her desire to make a difference for all kids — for those whose upbringing looked like hers, for those who ran away from home because they couldn’t take another minute of abuse, and those who were thrown out of their home. She’s hooked on making an impact, and her diverse experiences empower her to think big. 

Though it’s still early days, she has hopes of expanding beyond the organization’s current 12 licensed beds and begin supporting transitional-age youth ages 18 to 24 so they’re set up to thrive as full-fledged adults. As for her long-term vision as CEO, Jessica has a bold goal: to grow Casa Youth Shelter’s free mental health services across Orange and Los Angeles counties to ensure no child slips through the cracks and ends up in need of short-term emergency care. 

“I would be in every school if I could,” she says. “Is that wild?” 

 

To learn more about Casa Youth Shelter and provide support, such as volunteering in the kitchen, stocking the pantry or donating, visit

 

CASAYOUTHSHELTER.ORG

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