This episode features Stacy Johnson. Stacy is the founder and CEO of Central Texas Table of Grace, an emergency center for children and teens in the foster system who have nowhere else to go. Stacy talks about her own journey through the foster system and how she beat the odds and changed her life. I found her story inspiring and motivating.
For more information, please contact:
Stacy Johnson, Founder/CEO
Central Texas Table of Grace
Office (512) 244-4335
Fax (512) 717-6336
Post Office Box 52
Round Rock, TX 78680
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Judy Oskam: 0:06
Welcome to Stories of Change and Creativity. I'm Judy Oskam, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Texas State University. Throughout my career is a television journalist, video producer, PR professional and educator, I've always been drawn to stories, stories about people and how they deal with change and embrace creativity. Hope you enjoy listening.
Judy Oskam: 0:33
In this episode, you'll get to know Stacey Johnson and hear her story. It's a story of courage, creativity and learning how to beat the odds with determination and hard work. I first learned about Stacy at a Round Rock Chamber of Commerce event, where she was recognized with the Innovation and Philanthropy Award. Stacy started an organization called Central Texas Table of Grace. The nonprofit provides emergency shelter service to children in the foster system. And Stacey knows a lot about life as a foster child. I hope you're as inspired as I was. Let's listen to her story.
Stacy Johnson: 1:13
I went to foster care when I was two... my mom was an alcoholic, unable to take care of me, and so I went into the foster care system and I pretty much got bounced around from home to home throughout my childhood. I was in 10 different foster homes by the time I was 15 and I had at that point asked my caseworker if I could just go into a group home because I felt like if I did my tours and I followed the rules, I could just stay there. So she warned me against it because she said I wouldn't be able to be a quote normal kid. They have a lot of rules. It's It's kind of like jail, you know, you have a lot of restrictions, but I said, you know, But if I do my chores that I fall the rules like I can just stay there right? And she said, Well, yeah, And so she put me in Lisa Lane Group home when I was 15 years old and it was just a little group home with six other girls, and I met a therapist there. His name was Russ Hampton and he was the house therapist, and I remember telling him that I wanted to get legally emancipated by the time I was 16. And you know, a 15 year old is is a child. I mean, I don't know when the last time you saw a 15 year old. But that's a child. And I know that he wasn't looking at me saying 'great idea you should move out'. You know, that's gonna work out great. But he did. He looked me up and down and he goes, Well, you're a little rough around the edges that you can do it and we're gonna have to get right to work. He said if you want to get emancipated and be on your own you're going to have to have a job, a bank account, you have a car, you have all these things, and you gotta prove to the judge that you can do it, so we're gonna have to do it. And he bought me a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. And that book just changed my life. It taught me about goal setting, you know, a lot of things. And so when I was 16 years old, I did in fact go before a judge, and he did grant my emancipation. So at 16 years old I was I moved into my own apartment and I was on my own from that point forward and, uh I won't lie and say that it was easy. I mean, it was hard and it was a little bit of a shell shock. I think when you're that age and your brain hasn't fully developed yet, I don't think that you have a real grasp on the reality of what your, you know what you have to do to live life. I mean, grownups make it look so easy. Okay, so, uh but anyway, I did make it. I ended up having a couple of really good employers that were great mentors. And when I was 20 years old, I got hired at an insurance firm and ended up working as a financial advisor for the next eight years and did really great made a lot of money, was successful. I actually never went to college because I did start making so much money when I was 20 years old, there was really never I what I thought is a need and so you know, I became successful. But when I got emancipated, the one thing that I thought about was that someday I wanted to help foster kids. The way that Russ Hampton helped me because I truly believe that if he wouldn't have come into my life, I would have ended up a statistic I really would have. I was really going down that road of not being very responsible and just, you know, kind of, you know, you don't get taught a lot of things when you've been raised by 10 different families. You don't really know who you are anymore. By the time I was 15 I've been five different religions. I've been in five different schools, you know, I have been, you know, in well not five schools I've been in more than that, you know. So, you know, you just kind of lose who you are in. This man sort of pulled it all together. Said, Look, if you want to do this, this is what you have to do. This is how you set a goal. And really, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had control. I mean, he taught me how to that I could write down a goal. I could write down what I had to do to achieve that goal. I could do some stuff, and then I could make it happen. And it was like magic. It was like, Oh, my gosh, for the first time, like I can say what I want to and I can make it happen.
Judy Oskam: 4:58
Stacy, you mentioned control, talk about how control is important, especially for kids.
Stacy Johnson: 5:04
Well, I think that so many you know, not just foster kids are adopted kids or kids with trauma. Because if end of the day let's face it I think every kid, even from a quote normal household, has some trauma. You know, if it's not, you know, grandparent dying even our you know, something happening. All kids go through some sort of trauma, but I think control and predictability is so important for a child so that they can feel safe and secure. And they always say the hallmark of a traumatized child is control because that trauma has made them feel so out of control that they're just grasping for that one bit of control. And so, even in fact, that's kind of one of our principles at Table of Grace is we do whatever we can to say yes to the child instead of no and give them choices and a voice because and that makes them feel like they have control. So it's like, Okay, you know, these are their two choices. Would you rather do your chores before you know, dinner or after dinner? Because I see you refusing to do your chores. But you know what happens if you don't get your chores? You're gonna You're gonna lose your game time. So can I help you with it before dinner after dinner or something like that, and just giving choices. I think that's important. But I think that control you have to have control in order to do things for yourself, right? So you have to be able to make your own choices, make your own mistakes, those kind of things. But I think that having control and then having something workout builds self esteem. So I feel like that's where I got back all this self esteem I lost in the foster care system is when I said that I wanted to be emancipated and a mentor came into my life and told me you could do it. You have to work hard, but you can do it. And then as I worked hard and did it, that made me feel good about myself and I made me feel proud of myself, and that made me feel like I was strong, because even on the days that it was hard for me to do the things that I needed to do to achieve my goal, which was, you know, get up and go to work every day, get my schoolwork done, do all this stuff sometimes that was hard
Judy Oskam: 7:06
And as far as habits? Habits. There's a saying about you know, you know your future, your habits define your future. Really. You talked about that goal setting that was one of your habits. You set goals. What what were some other habits that I think listeners could learn from?
Stacy Johnson: 7:23
So definitely the goal setting was just a huge thing for me, and it's kind of interesting because one of the things that him getting that book for me did I sort of began to love reading self improvement books. And I think that I owe so much of that to, so much of my success and things to just the sheer number of books that I read about improving myself and things like that. And things that even grown ups that I know today don't really know what I mean. If you didn't read a bunch of business books or you know things, you know, positive thinking, type things or love attraction or any of these kind of books, I think I just got so many great tips and tricks and knowledge and just reminders. I think sometimes you need sometimes when we have trauma or low self esteem, our self talk and our negative tapes get really bad. And so when you add to that by like watching the news or listening to you know this or that or doing other things that are adding that negativity, you know, you can just get really bogged down. But if you choose to put positive things, so one of the habits that I do is I really try to only take in positive things. So, like, I don't watch the news. I don't read books that are just really sad or things like. I try not to watch shows that make me depressed and sad. I tried to watch things that make me happy and make me feel good because your thoughts control your feelings and your feelings control your actions. So how you're feeling inside is going to control what you do. So if you're, you know, scrolling through YouTube and looking at all the pretty girls with their makeup tips and their filters and everything else and that's making you feel icky inside, don't do it anymore. Don't look at that. You don't have to look at that. You don't have to. You're making that choice. You don't have to like at that, if that's making you feel that. Don't look at it. I mean, I know so many kids are getting depressed and having issues with social media and stuff, if that's hurting you, stop doing it. And I know that's hard. But start taking those things in saying, okay, I'm gonna put the positive things in. I'm gonna do this thing, And then another habit that I just started doing at the age of 35 is making my bed. I make my bed every day, and that was a life changer. I read a book about it's this guy, You know, this guy is he a Navy or Air Force, and he talks about how you've completed your first task of the day and it feels good and you feel like, okay, I can do that, and that leads to a domino effect of other positive things. So I, you know, that's a habit I just recently developed as an adult. I've never made my bed. And now that I do, it's interesting. My whole house is cleaner. It's crazy. It just leads two different stuff.
Judy Oskam: 10:01
The Domino effect. Yeah, yeah.
Stacy Johnson: 10:03
So I just think it's like, you know, um, you know, garbage in garbage out. Whatever you put in, that's what's gonna come out. So start putting positive things in and and police yourself a little bit. If you're doing because I have to do that, sometimes Facebook makes me feel negative I mean, sometimes I'm looking at the Pinterest moms and the one that made the, you know, that cupcakes for their kids. And I forgot the cupcakes like I didn't even do the cupcakes. I was supposed to bring the cupcakes, and I didn't know you know something. And then you look at that, you go gosh I'm not very good. Well, sometimes I gotta turn it off. Sometimes I have to say, you know, look at Facebook right now. It might make me feel icky, I don't know what I'm gonna see you know, So how about lets do Facebook like, not right now.
Judy Oskam: 10:44
Well, you know, you know, it sounds like that you really turned your whole life around but you did it on purpose on a mission. And then you have this vision for Central Texas Table of Grace. Talk about that? it's so amazing.
Stacy Johnson: 10:52
Yea... This is the catalyst for everything that I have done in my life's work. And it's just kind of interesting, because when I got emancipated, I did say, You know, someday I'm gonna help foster kids. I can't say that I thought about about a whole lot after that. I mean, I was 16 and I was on my own. And I was just surviving. And then I was 20 and I got that professional job, was making all this money, and I was in the corner office overlooking the river and everything was good. I mean, I didn't really think Well, why don't I quit this and go open a shelter? I mean, that's not really what my thoughts were at the time, but I ended up moving to Texas, and I don't know what made me kind of started thinking about it again. But to be one 100 percent honest with you. It was on an Internet date that I expressed to this date, and I think it was like our third date that I expressed to this guy. You know, I've always wanted to open a group home and kind of was telling him my story and everything. And at the end of dinner, he said, You know, if that's your dream. You should You should do it And I laughed at him. I just like, well, I'm a single mom making pretty good money and I can't just quit my job and open a nonprofit. But thanks for your vote of confidence. Appreciate, ya, you know, But then is he walked into my car. He says, You know, if that's your dream. I think you should just do it. And once again, I just patted him on the back and gave him a little peck and said, thanks - see you later. But that night he emailed me an E book called The Step by Step Guide to Opening a Group Home. And by the next morning I had read the entire book, and that was like on Step five, ready to go. And I knew that it was my mission. You know why? Because it didn't feel like work. I was excited about it, every little thing that I did. And in my head, it just I had no fear. It was like, this focus of like, I'm gonna do this.
Judy Oskam: 12:44
It was your calling.
Stacy Johnson: 12:46
Yeah, it just happened. What? I just started to take the steps. A 1,000,000 miracles happen, and we probably don't have time on this podcast, even to go into many of them at all, but basically, within one year of that Internet date, Table of Grace was open. Um, and now we've been open for years.
Judy Oskam: 13:05
Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. Well, how can listeners be involved with this with this vision?
Stacy Johnson: 13:13
So we have a lot of exciting things going on. Actually, I'm actually considering and I'm saying this out loud, so I really have to get on it. But I am really considering opening at the Transitional LivingProgram for kids that are aging out of foster care. 18 to 24. I kind of have that same fire, you know, going because here I have Table of Grace and for the first time, one of my kids that lived with us for 8 or 10 months, I found, had become homeless at 18 when he aged out and we you know, we know that happens a lot of kids, but it was the 1st one of my kids. And so when that happened, our organization decided to personally just take him on because there's no transitional programs that have a room that will take him because there's certain criteria. They kind of take the cream of the crop type kids because they're so full and they have to take the ones that are willing to do the work. But there's some kids that just don't have the wherewithal to do the work and those who is gonna help. Yeah, so I'm looking, and I even possibly expanding into that a little bit. But right now, the number one thing that helps Table of Grace is just awareness, because when anyone finds out what we do and they go to our Facebook page, which is just under our name, Central Texas Table of Grace and they see the pictures of those kiddos and the things that we're doing for them...which a note on that we, for privacy reasons, can't show the kid's faces, but the pictures on our website are our kids. We cover their faces. Because I want you guys to see this is what we're really doing. This isn't like these are, you know, stage shots. These are this is what we're really doing, our kids. But every time somebody sees that, they want to help and they do help. And that's how we get what we need. Because we have to raise over $200,000 a year on our own above and beyond what the state pays to do what we need to do with these kids. And of course, that goes up every year, we're gonna get people raises if we're gonna do cost of living. And if we're gonna you know, our rent goes up every so often, so that number is just gonna keep growing. And so what helps us is awareness. And when people ask me what I need, I hate to say it, but it's money and more money. We also need volunteers, of course, but we need money,
Judy Oskam: 15:27
Money can pay for the staff and pay for the rent and everything else.
Stacy Johnson: 15:30
And believe it or not, it takes staff to deal with volunteers here. Just don't show up in droves and know what to do and know how to help and things like that. And, um, and nor do they have the kind of time that employees have to put into it. So, yes, I mean, and just there are things that we need. We have, you know, we need to be able to spend more training. We need to be able to, you know, these things are high level people needed. But guess what? They don't make very much because we can't pay very much. We have 19 employees, and our budget is our budget is our budget. So just like teachers, I feel like the industry is somewhat governed that, because even at the bigger places that make millions in donations and have, you know, endowments and all these kinds of things, that as a small organization we don't have yet are paying not much more than we are, But they do have benefits, which costs a lot more. So, yeah, we want to go.
Judy Oskam: 16:20
So money is the main thing that you need. You know, back to sort of team teens and young adults that have faced hardships. I mean, what do you tell them? about taking charge of their own future.
Stacy Johnson: 16:34
You feel like you're out of control, that you have control over more than what you think through your behavior and actions. So much of what has happened to traumatized kids is not in their control, and it's not their fault. Okay, so sometimes it's hard to relay that to a kid like, you know, this is what you have to do and they're going, 'But why am I even here?' Why am I even in shelter? Why am I even, you know, why is this even happening to me? And what's hard is that I don't have an explanation for that because it's not their fault, and it's not something they did. But what I like to tell him is that you know you have more control than you think. My biggest piece of advice is it's something so simple, but even grown ups don't do it is right down your goals. It's so simple, but it's something that even grown ups don't do it right. 3% of adults do this, so it's hard when you're asking kids to do something that even grown ups don't do, but it's truly what changed my entire life is just writing down my goals and having it in front of me all the time because it reminds you why they're doing what you do. And when you are trying to make a choice, it takes all the decision making out of it. You just say, is this gonna put me towards this or away from this?
Judy Oskam: 17:51
Thank you for listening to Stories of Change and Creativity. Check out the show notes for more information about this episode and please subscribe and share this podcast with a friend. If you have a story to tell or know someone who does, please let me know. I'm Judy Oskam. Thanks for listening.