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It could be the pictures on the wall that perfectly reflect her personality. Or the full kitchen where she recently cooked up steak, asparagus and mashed potatoes for dinner.
But if 18-year-old Shaunna Contreras had to pinpoint her favorite thing about her new apartment, it would be the balcony, where she loves to sip her morning coffee while listening for the crickets and frogs that inhabit the creek below.
It's a tranquil and unexpected new phase for Contreras, who spent two years in foster care before aging out at 18 into a situation she called "hopeless." But thanks to a new program called Grace365 that funds apartments for aging out foster youth ages 18-22, Contreras now has support, and a safety net, as she transitions into adulthood. Grace365 also pays participants' bills, helps them get driver's licenses and offers twice-monthly stipends so they can purchase items such as groceries and clothing.
Contreras said walking into her own apartment for the first time was "unreal." "I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I was beyond grateful."
Stacy Johnson, right, with Shaunna Contreras on the porch of Contreras' apartment in Round Rock. (Kristin Finan/Austonia)
Grace365 is a new program by the nonprofit Central Texas Table of Grace. Unlike the new program, Central Texas Table of Grace only provides emergency shelter services to children and teens in the foster care system. Founder and CEO Stacy Johnson said the purpose of Grace365 is to offer stability to youth who are aging out while connecting them with all of the services available to them.
"Foster kids in Texas get free college, they get all kinds of different services that they can utilize, but nobody is really telling them how to do it and they're kind of falling through the cracks when they age out. A lot of them become homeless," Johnson said. "I'm just trying to prevent that from happening so that we can give them a place to transition."
At a young age Stacy Johnson entered the foster care system where she experienced the difficulties of transitioning out of the system. (Stacy Johnson)
Johnson, a Round Rock resident, knows all about the perils of aging out of the foster care system. She entered foster care at age 2 and emancipated at age 16 only to find herself struggling to make ends meet. She recalls days when the only thing she would eat was a $1 spicy chicken sandwich from Carl's Jr., purchased with any spare change she could manage to scrape together from under her couch cushions.
"I didn't know how to cook, I didn't know how to buy groceries, I didn't know how to budget," Johnson said. "Just buying a soda if I wanted was a luxury because you literally are down to pennies. I feel like I was saved by the grace of God so many times."
As an emergency shelter, Johnson's Central Texas Table of Grace is not allowed to house youth past their 18th birthday. Johnson said it was "heartbreaking" watching children turn 18 and have nowhere to go.
"Once they age out, the people that will help them are the sex trafficker and the drug dealer and the pedophile. It's almost like they have a target on their heads," Johnson said. "Once they become homeless or something goes wrong, it's really hard to get them back."
Shaunna Contreras cuts one of her graduation portraits for Stacy Johnson. (Kristin Finan/Austonia)
For Contreras, being part of Grace365 brings her full circle—she also spent three months in Johnson's shelter two years ago.
She now works as a caregiver at a retirement home and moved into her new apartment three weeks ago. She ultimately wants to be a phlebotomist and hopes to start college in the fall.
"Sometimes I'm very hard on myself, and I tell myself, 'You can do better.' But I'm proud of myself," Contreras said. "I'm proud of where I've gotten, because I didn't think I would get this far."
"I'm really proud of you, too," Johnson said.
Stacy Johnson, left, reads poetry written by Shaunna Contreras in Contreras' new apartment. (Kristin Finan/Austonia)
Johnson said her hope is that participants be financially independent a year to 18 months after starting the program but that Grace365 will evaluate apartment funding on a case-by-case basis. The program currently funds three apartments but plans to quickly add more and has a long-term goal of creating a tiny home village for youth who are aging out.
As for advice to anyone going through a hard time?
"Never give up," Contreras said. "Don't feel like it's the end, because it's not."
A week after Texas added two congressional seats and California lost one, state officials reported a population decline in 2020 for the first time in the Golden State's history.
California fell by over 182,000 people from January 2020 to January 2021, dropping almost 0.5% to cap out at around 39.5 million people. It is still the nation's most populous state.
For over thirty years, California has seen more people leave than move in from other states, state officials said, with 6.1 million people moving out and 4.9 million coming in last year. Immigration and births kept California growing, but the state saw a shrink in international migration in 2020 due to COVID and the White House's hold on visas.
Of the steady flow of ex-Californians moving to other states, more are moving to Texas than any other state. Many are relocating to Austin, which has been labeled a "little California" by billionaire resident Elon Musk and continues to grow astronomically.
Meanwhile, California cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco saw a population decline.
With immigration and state migration on the decline, the Golden State was also hit with a spike in deaths- 51,000 people died from COVID in 2020, and all but seven of the state's counties saw death rates higher than the three-year average.
Still, the California Department of Finance said a "slightly positive annual growth" can be expected next year as the state recovers from COVID deaths and political repercussions.
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The sun is out, and thousands of Austin FC fans will be as well as Austin FC goes to Kansas to play Sporting Kansas City at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.
There's plenty of pub partners to choose from, but here's a few watch parties to help you get in on the action.
Los Verdes watch party at Hopsquad Brewing, 2307 Kramer Lane
Fun fact: @LosVerdesATX brings sleeping bags and they basically live in the grain room between games. They'll emerge from time to time for a cup of coffee and to see if the #verde keeper kit has been released. pic.twitter.com/6HKUEHUFWY— Hopsquad Brewing Co. (@HopsquadBrewing) May 3, 2021
Ol' faithful: Hopsquad Brewing is hosting its weekly watch party, complete with beer, food trucks and the possible release of a new michelada, in partnership with Austin FC fan club Los Verdes. Admission is free, but make sure to bring a lawn chair so you can watch from the brand-new LED screen.
Austin Anthem North at 601 Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
Live up North? Looking for a place to catch the match? Join Us this Sunday.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 7, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🍺 $1 off pints with @AustinFC gear and #verde Beer
🌮 Van's Damn Tasty Tacos & Ronburguesas $6 Fried Tots pic.twitter.com/zHRp4H2MIQ
Austin Anthem's 1,000+ audience at watch parties have been legendary, but they're splitting the group into two this week. The North Watch party will be located at Whitestone Brewery, with $1 off discounts if you bring Austin Anthem's signature beer or wear Verde. Tater tots and tacos will be on the menu. RSVP here.
Austin Anthem East at Haymaker, 2301 Manor Road
This week’s beer-storming also brings #LosZanates back to where much of the #AustinFC supporter movement was formed: @HaymakerAustin.— Austin Anthem (@AustinAnthem) May 4, 2021
⚽ #AustinFC 🆚 #SportingKC
🗓 Sun, 5/9. 6:30pm
🐻 2310 Manor Rd
The #Verde watch parties for all of #Austin. Join us!https://t.co/EdiBruetIG pic.twitter.com/7NYsEFLxCf
Austin Anthem is returning to its roots at Haymaker Austin, where much of the group originated. Beer, sandwiches and more will be on the menu for all of East Austin. RSVP here.
Head to a bar near you
If none of these watch parties are quite the right fit for you, 31 bars will be streaming the match in the Austin metro as part of the Austin FC Pub Club.
- Austin Eastciders- Barton Springs, 1530 Barton Springs Rd.
- Austin Eastciders- Collaboratory 979 Springdale Rd. Suite 130
- B.D. Riley's Mueller, 1905 Aldrich St. Unit 130
- The Bon Aire, 9070 Research Blvd
- Bouldin Acres, 2027 S Lamar Blvd
- Casa Chapala, 9041 Research Blvd Suite 100
- The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Rd Unit A
- Cover 2,13701 N Highway 183
- Cover 3 Anderson Lane, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 202
- Happy Chicks, 214 E 6th St.
- Haymaker, 2310 Manor Rd.
- High Five- Anderson Ln, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 101
- Local Post Pub, 7113 Burnet Rd
- Pelons, 802 Red River St
- Play on 6th, 620 W 6th St
- Pluckers, various locations
- Revelry On The Boulevard, 6215 N Lamar Blvd
- Revelry- East 6th, 1410 E 6th St
- Rusty Cannon Pub, 730 W Stassney Ln Unit 120
- San Jac Saloon, 300 E 6th Street
- Shiner's Saloon, 422 Congress Ave Unit D
- Shooters Billiards 620, 11416 N FM 620
- Taco Flats, mulitple locations
- Twin Peaks, 701 E Stassney Ln
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