He may have only worked here for two years, but Justin Earls already feels like a fixture at Mercy Home. The Senior Coordinator of Post-Secondary Options and Career Resources (a title he calls “the longest ever”) has already made a great impact on not just the young men he works with in Campbell Home, but all of the young people at our Home.

Justin, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, first heard of Mercy Home when he was in junior high and had friends who were residents here.

“They would always talk about Mercy Home being this great place that always gave them three meals a day and they got to play basketball, and I was like, ‘oh wow, that’s great,’” he said. “So when I graduated from college and I was looking for a job, I was like, ‘I know I want to work with youth, I’ll look into this place.’”

Justin received his degree in sociology with a minor in criminology from Eastern Illinois University. He originally planned to be a police officer and follow in the footsteps of his father, who is a detective. But after taking some classes and an internship where he worked with youth, he changed his path.

“The fact that [the youth] looked up to me as kind of a mentor … I was like, I can really make a difference,” he said.

In his role in the Education and Career Resources department, Justin helps our young men with school and work—everything from helping our guys get into school and graduating, to finding and keeping a job. He said he was particularly drawn to this work because he knew the importance of having a plan B in place.

Justin played basketball in college and had hopes to play professional basketball overseas before he was sidelined by ACL injuries.

“I had to have a plan B in life and [so I’m] coaching youth that it’s good to have a plan A, [but] then what’s your plan B?” he said

Justin’s basketball career is a special way he bonds with our boys.

“It was actually like a professional experience,” he said. “I tell all the youth that it’s a 9 to 5 job. You wake up at 6 a.m. in the morning, do your workouts, go to your 8 a.m. class right from there, come back, do another workout, go back to another class, then you finally have practice, then study, so it’s a full-time job. I tell them you actually have to be in it and it’s fun, but you got to really love the game to do it.”

Because of his background in basketball, Justin has spent two seasons coaching Mercy Home’s IIAA basketball team, the Mustangs. He was recruited directly by Mercy Home’s former chef Nyah Griffin.

“I was like, okay, I’ll give it a shot, [but] I don’t know what it’s about,” he laughed.

In addition to taking home the championship, he also built great relationships with the players.

“It was just phenomenal,” he said. “It helped me learn more about myself and more about the youth.”

Justin’s unique ability to connect with Mercy Home’s young men has put him in the role of being a kind of father figure to many of the boys here. Though he said it can be a lot of pressure, he is able to combine the ability to be a fun coworker they get along with and knowing when he needs to hold them accountable and teach them about a different way to do things.

“I feel like one of the most important things to teach them is respect,” he said. “And it starts with self-respect and then respect for one another because a lot of them, they don’t know what it looks like.”

“I feel like one of the most important things to teach them is respect,” he said. “And it starts with self-respect and then respect for one another because a lot of them, they don’t know what it looks like.”

Working with the kids is Justin’s favorite part of being a coworker at Mercy Home.

“I’ll say the youth, hands down, is the best part about working at Mercy Home,” he said.

“Even if they transition out … they’ll still email me and talk to me about college or work, so just building relationships with them and knowing I am someone [who is] not just doing a job, I actually do care about them, is really great and that’s what gets me going every day,” he said.

And of course, he also loves his coworkers, particularly his supervisor Katelyn Dollard, Director of Post-Secondary Options.

“I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for Katelyn,” he said. “[She’s] the greatest. Whenever I have a question or I’m doing anything, she’s always very supportive, always there, and I know she does a phenomenal job.”

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