MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee woman is taking her struggles as a teenager and turning it into a passion to help youth who may be going through the same things she did.
Jessica Johnson was forced to grow up quickly, dealing with both loss and responsibility at a young age.
“I was in foster care for a while and I was adopted at 10,” said Johnson. “The lady who adopted me ended up passing away in my high school years. My mother died about two or three years before that.”
Other family members looked after her for a while after her adoptive mother passed, but she says for most of the time, she was on her own.
“How did that affect you as a teenager?” TMJ4’s Mariam Mackar asked her.
“Man, it affected me quite a lot,” she said. “I was working sometimes two jobs in high school. I was able, my senior year, to only have half days, so I would go to work after school and pretty much take care of myself at that point.”
Her experiences growing up have inspired Johnson to give back as an adult. In 2016 she created the I Owe Youth Foundation which focuses on workforce preparation and being a support system for teens.
They are most well known for their annual Prom Drive, a free shopping experience to give high schoolers everything they need for the big day.
“You need a dress, you need shoes, you need your makeup, you need your nails, all of these different things which all cost money,” explained Johnson.
Each year, through gracious community donations, the event hosts racks of gorgeous gowns, suits and raffles for nail, hair, and makeup services.
Deja Carter, a junior at Pius XI High School, picked her dream dress at this year’s event.
“I love it, I’m 100% sold,” Carter told us beaming. “Prom and things can be very expensive and something like this can help me and my mom out tremendously.”
Over the past seven years, the event has helped hundreds of teens and Johnson says more is on the way for the foundation.
“I just think it’s really important for them to have a level of support in all things, whether it’s prom related, or workforce preparation related or anything of the sort.”
Johnson says her next goal with the foundation is putting on a job fair for teens before school starts in the fall.
Johnson is also a published author. You can find her books linked here.
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