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Justine : How a Homeless Girl Is Turning Her Life Around

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Home free. Now that 19-year old Justine (last name withheld on request) has successfully worked her way off the streets of Eugene, she is headed back to Texas where her three-year odyssey began.

In October 2004, when her family situation turned abusive, a Texas court placed then 17-year old Justine in a residential treatment facility. Justine and her younger brother, adopted near birth by a career military officer and his wife, were home schooled in standard curriculum as well as Bible stories by their adoptive mother. This strict upbringing and social isolation during their primary and middle school years set the stage for a difficult adolescent period for Justine.

When she became a teenager, Justine said her mother’s restriction of her choices in music, television and friendships outside of church caused her to rebel. When her mother’s punishments turned excessively physical, Justine was separated from her family by the court. This change revealed that Justine was behind in her studies. “After I found out I was far behind in school, I was very goal oriented,” Justine said.

Justine’s family disputed the court’s choice of schools for Justine, and her parents arranged for Justine to attend The Academy in Bridge, Oregon. After 11 months there, Justine had caught up with her high school studies through online classes with an on-site tutor, but not quite enough to earn her GED. Now 18 and on her own, Justine came to Eugene to join Job Corps, but no placements were available. With her failed option and no money, Justine found she was homeless and went to live at the Eugene Mission.

While there she attended the nearby New Roads School, an alternative high school for homeless teens with a social services center offering access to computers, showers, laundry and a message board. “I got my GED in about three weeks,” Justine said.

When her access to lodging at the Mission expired, Justine gathered her belongings and toughed it out under the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge off 7th Street in Eugene, joining other homeless through the winter. Back-to-back bouts of mono forced her to seek medical treatment at all three local hospital emergency rooms. With nowhere else to turn, Justine recuperated by lodging with one of her street friends who had an alcohol and closet drug addiction. He became very abusive toward her. Because she was bedridden, she was unable to leave the situation and had another relapse after that.

By summer she had freed herself of both her companion and her mono. For a month and a half she worked cleaning dorms for the University of Oregon. Then she experienced a miscarriage requiring even more medical services. Within three days of being released from her one-day hospital stay, Justine saw a receptionist job in the paper. A previous volunteer experience answering phones at a children’s home encouraged her to apply.The computer firm hired her knowing she was homeless and Justine’s luck was transformed.

The part-time job turned full-time with two raises along the way. She proved so dependable on the job that one of the managers co-signed for her very first apartment. “I had all the money and the deposits already put aside. I just needed someone to co-sign since I was homeless,” Justine said. She recently passed her anniversary mark with the company.

About five months ago, Justine got a second job on weekends working at a hotel doing night auditor functions to help pay down the hospital and medical bills she had accumulated. “I’m almost 20. I don’t want a bad credit rating. That’s important,” Justine said, estimating that her average work week has been somewhere around 72 hours.

Now the jobs and housing opportunity she worked so hard to create are coming to an end. Justine has decided she’ll travel back to Texas to care for a woman she befriended while on the street. Her 22-year old friend now lives in Austin, about 300 miles from Justine’s familial stomping grounds of San Antonio. While her friend recovers from an emergency hysterectomy, Justine will care for the woman’s two toddlers.

“She’s been on the streets since she was 13,” Justine said. “I don’t want her to have to do this alone when she has no one else.” Justine is godmother to the woman’s children.

As she packed up her apartment, another first, Justine reflected on the past year’s success. “I’ve learned so many things,” she paused, looking at the shelf of hair products lining the front of the bathroom mirror. “I’ve learned how expensive my high maintenance hair can be,” she laughed.

Monitoring soap usage and budgeting other items such as money were all new skills she had learned. “And how I leave the apartment. I want to get it right,” Justine said, speaking about turning in keys and covering any penalties for giving early notice. Luckily the landlords waived the early notice fees.

Once her friend is well, Justine plans to attend the University of Texas in Austin. “College is really hard for me,” Justine said of lecture-based learning. “I’m not used to learning that way. I did it in church before, but that’s a sermon and no one tests you on that.”

Justine might become a translator with her love of languages, and her experience of living in Japan with her family as a pre-teen. Or she’ll opt to work in the supply end of computer technology, maybe own a small business. The important thing to Justine is to “think things through and then if things go wrong, at least I can say I thought things through,” she said.

While giving up her stable situation has her a little anxious, Justine feels ready and able to finally help others. Her belief in herself and her enthusiasm for meeting hard situations head on has elevated Justine above her previous circumstances – with a little help from those she’s inspired.

Could there be sweeter justice for Justine?

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100 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Brianna – New York said:

    I liked this article because it was well written and was truly an inspiration for anyone going through tough times, and let’s face it, we all do. To me, it was proof that things could always be worse, and that if you work hard anything is possible.

  • Sarah said:

    This was one of my favorite articles and there are many reasons for it. To begin with, she was only 17 when she was being abused and I’m 17 myself and have been in abusive situations as well. I think her age hit home with me the most. I couldn’t imagine having to be removed from my family and not even being able to finish high school and living in missions. She must be a very strong girl because that is just so much to go through at such a young age.

  • Morgan said:

    This touched me on a personal level, as my grandfather was homeless a few years back. I thought it was well written, and highly encouraging, although I felt the words could use a bit of color. I love people and positive stories.

  • Crys – Kentucky said:

    I was truly inspired by Justine’s story. I gained a lot of respect and admiration for her in her pursuit for stability and self-reliance, no matter the obstacles. Through her struggles and efforts, I was able to connect with her in her inability to quit. Her strength and endurance, with her ability to overcome diversity in this ever changing world, should be applauded. What an amazing and brave young woman.

  • James said:

    I really liked Justine’s story as it is so helpful and truly outlines how in life, notwithstanding when everything appears to be dim and startling and miserable, in the event that you truly need something and battle for it, then individuals and fortunes will grin at you. I am persuaded that strenghtened by every one of these encounters Justine will be glad and fruitful in all segments of life, at work, at home and in social circles, on the grounds that she is a real champ from inside.

  • Melissa – Connecticut said:

    This girl’s situation turn abusive with her family. Then she discover she was very far behind in her studies. She wanted to catch up with that and she did but at that point she ended up being homeless. She endured health crises that consist of pneumonia, I believe twice. But still got her GED, she manage to get a job as a receptionist at computer firm which turned full time and they knew she was homeless. They were even so impressed that help her get her first apartment. This woman knew what she wanted out of life and somehow managed it in not so great circumstances. I just found this woman to be very impressive and she even worried about her credit rating. Some people maybe wouldn’t have the strength to go out and do things in that situation. Perhaps that is some of why I found the movie Homeless to Harvard which is about this teenager who got into Harvard while being homeless at the time. That was another true story as well along with it involving a rather impressive girl as well. If there was some kind of award for people like this, then that Justine should get it along side that girl in Homeless to Harvard. That is my opinion of people who accomplishes what these two did in their situation.

  • Justine – Massachusetts said:

    First, I like the premise of reading about this young girl rising above difficult circumstances. However, there are a couple of comments I’d like to make about the article.

    When we read about Justine’s strict upbringing, it is implied that homeschooling is directly associated with a strict upbringing and social isolation. Perhaps in Justine’s case this is true, but to make such a strong general statement on the topic really left a sour taste in my mouth. It may have been more appropriate to point out that many families homeschoolto allow for a flexible lifestyle which enables them to travel, or that sometimes military families choose to homeschool to facilitate consistency with school work since they move around frequently. From there, go on to say that in Justine’s case homeschooling was a means to isolate the children or something to that extent.
    The article also left me with questions: Why couldn’t Justine finish her GED at The Academy in Bridge, Oregon? And then, why did The Mission in Eugene, and the New Roads School send her out to live under a bridge? There must be an explanation of these things, but as a reader I was left to make assumptions.
    I did appreciate, however, that the author chose to keep the details of Justine’s abusive relationships out of the article. It seemed wise to keep the reader from focusing on the abuse, and rather focus on Justine’s ability to overcome the trials along her journey.
    In my opinion, overall, a nice article.

  • Justine said:

    After reading “Justine”, I understand more of the value of your site. I enjoyed and related to much of the article I felt I got to know this gal’s journey, and the fact she gives herself time, patience and the drive to keep moving forward. Even more amazing is she still gives of herself to others, while she is still picking herself up.

  • Tamah – Kansas said:

    As a former elementary teacher and a mom, I am passionate about youth issues. I read this article and was amazed at this young woman’s resiliency and drive. I thought Ms. Koons’s narrative absolutely did Justine justice. She wrote with pertinent description and her timeline of Justin’e life events was very effective. I liked Ms. Konns’s paragraphing and quote structure; her article flowed very well because of it. The one thing I did not care for about the article was the pervasive use of text bolding. I found it distracting and unnecessary. I think the reader should be able to experience the story without the author’s bias of importance being highlighted. However, I did came away from the article with a palpable sense of who this inspiring youth is, so mission accomplished.

    I am a kind, joyful person who always finds the silver lining. We have one precious life and I am going to spend it with a grateful heart and spreading happiness where I can.

  • Shawna said:

    I always enjoy these kind of stories, because they remind me that even the toughest of challenges can be overcome. I didn’t like the fact that she had to live out on the streets while she was ill. That’s a sad part of society that I hope one day can be changed.

  • Leslie – Michigan said:

    Of course, the story and content were terrific. Tragic stories with an ultimate prevail are exactly the types of stories that would attract my attention. But, the article itself fell a little flat. For being as remarkable as she is, I felt Justine’s story should have left the reader feeling more emotion.

  • Allison – Canada said:

    I feel that her story was powerful and accessible, however I felt that the way it was written might have taken away from the message it could have potentially given. I felt that it didn’t do justice to the emotional human experience of such a remarkable journey. I didn’t feel like I was hearing Justine’s voice, and I believe that is what makes her story meaningful. Though objective facts and linear telling of events are important, I feel like this story could have been written in another way, a way that would give the reader a sense that Justine is telling you her story, ingrained with the heart and emotion that define a journey such as hers. I would have like to have seen a narrative of human experience that is relatable because though all of our struggles are different, somehow we are all the same. A remarkable and inspiring story nonetheless :)

    I truly love the concept of this magazine,

  • Stephanie – Wyoming said:

    The article was very interesting, it kept me intrigued. Only thing that did bothered me was the bold letters in every other paragraph. I understand it’s to highlight the importance of it but the writer Kristi was already doing that without the bold lettering.

  • Austin - Wisconsin said:

    I am very intrigued by the overall simplicity this magazine seems to represent. There is no apparent flashiness but rather a clearly defined and well worded message that brings to light the realities of a real world in which we live. This story of the homeless girl, Justine, was especially very inspiring as well as uniquely engaging. This type of message is something I can definitely get behind.

  • Bob – Vermont said:

    I’ve been looking over your web site and reading some of the many articles posted here. I tend to go for the sports stories as I am a bit of a sports fan. However, I also liked this story of the homeless girl as a “winner against the odds”.

  • Natalie – South Carolina said:

    I think the premise of the magazine is excellent and I enjoyed the articles I read. I was particularly moved by this story of Justine who was so committed to progress that she was able to earn her GED and get off the streets of Eugene. I have a heart for our young people. There are so many challenges for them. Stories like these offer encouragement that there is hope and possibility. If Justine could survive, maybe they can, too. I have been a storyteller for most of my life. I find that being willing to share the personal details of one’s challenges allows others to be open to doing the same. And it provides the kind of encouragement we all need. There is not a lot I feel I can do as I look at the state of the world. Like you, I want to toss a stone in the water that creates ripples that may change a single life or even a world. I’m glad you’re getting your magazine up and running again. I hadn’t realized that it had been in print as well as online.

  • Carey – Australia said:

    I was extremely moved by this story on Justine. The article was very touching and inspirational at the same time. It is truly amazing how diligence and determination can pay off in so many ways, yet very saddened by all of her struggles growing up

  • Heather - Oklahoma said:

    This is a touching story that I very much could relate to. I myself have battled alcoholism and drug addiction for most of my life. So I can definitely relate to this girls struggles.

  • Rebecca - Louisiana said:

    I was very moved by this story—I don’t often hear first-hand accounts of homelessness, let alone from the perspective of someone who has overcome it. Further, the inclusion of this story among the likes of high-profile successes such as the founder of McDonald’s illustrates that success stories come in many forms. The story has really stuck with me. She’s been through so many things that most of us haven’t.

  • Catherine – New York said:

    This article, of all the ones I read herein, stood out I liked the descriptive sentences used by the writer. The writer was able to keep me curious and grabs my attention. I like how the site is easy to navigate through and the design is simple. I did wonder where your social media links were. Either I couldn’t find them or you don’t have them. I do know that’s an important tool for any publication and is almost necessary for it to be noticed.

  • Pamela - North Carolina said:

    I liked the article overall. Her story is quite inspiring and many people could benefit from it..

  • Jared – New Hampshire said:

    I loved this article. It shows a girl who had nothing beat all odds by getting a GED, well paying job, and apartment after be homeless as of 18. Then after getting all of that she gives it all up to go take care of someone she met on the street, and her 2 toddlers. This article gives such strong emotions of beating the odds, and putting someone else’s needs in front of your own.

  • Lesley said:

    I admire Justine, her efforts, and challenges she has overcome. However, I thought the article could have been written in a more pointed direction. It is perfectly fine to make several points in an article, but I thought the timing and placement of some of the text was not clear and could have been more organized so as to not take away from the points attempted to be made or the inspiration of the story. Also, I didn’t understand the importance of the bolding of many of the phrases, especially in that the subject of some of the bolded phrases was missing. The article should be rewritten, but the underlying story is very inspirational. Way to go Justine!

  • Musu. – Maryland said:

    This article stood out to me not only because her story is amazing, but it shows how people may have it all but then don’t know how to rebound once something happens to them. Justine is a living witness that one can turn their life around for the better in times of adversity. Her spirit and strength were well detailed in the story making it an interesting read. Being able to make such stories and material relate-able to the audience is critical in having a true impact and making a difference. I believe this magazine is making a difference in people’s lives with stories like this.

  • Andrew - Michigan said:

    I found the piece to be very interesting as it chronicled the challenges she has faced throughout her life and – despite a few stumbles along the way – how she somehow found that certain something inside herself to overcome such obstacles.

  • AJ said:

    I found this article on the Homeless girl who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a satisfactory life very inspirational. The article depicts everyday situations and circumstances and the drive of a hardworking teen who achieved her goal. Justine’s story is awesome in and by itself

  • Ivy – Texas said:

    I really enjoyed reading about Justine’s struggle through poverty as a runaway and doing what it took to get out of it. I really felt like I could relate. I left home at 19 and quit college to join a cult. After I left the cult I made bad decision after bad decision. I, like Justine, never realized that I could just drop my pride and go home. I wish she would have done that like I did. I was adopted and homeschooled like her so I often felt like my parents were overbearing and overprotective. Girls like us never seem to know what we’ve got til it’s gone. I’m glad she found her way out of her mess and is growing towards success. Great article overall.

  • Ben – Kentucky said:

    I was deeply touched by this article on the young lady Justine. By the time, I had finished reading the article I felt so proud of her as if I knew her. She was finally given a break by someone who cared and in turn she made the journey back to Texas to help someone else.

  • Jamie M said:

    I am completely happy for Justin and am glad to see her rebuilding her life.

  • Abigayle– Turkey said:

    I have looked over your website and can honestly say that I believe in what you are doing. The stories are inspirational. I found that the article really touched my heart. Through out University, I worked with homeless men with drug addiction and I know how hard it is to overcome such situations. I really like how the author was able to convey that Justine was born into this situation, I think it is important to put a face to the homeless and explain how it really is a cyclical cycle. Justine’s story is inspirational. I really enjoyed the article.

  • Hayy - Texas said:

    I liked this article about Justine, the homeless girl.
    She’s about my age, and pulled through a lot. We actually have a lot in common, when reading what she dealt with. I’m from Texas, but I left because I was around abusive people. I’m catching up in school, and trying to find a good job as well. & we both love languages.
    I like that the overall feel of the magazine is people overcoming things. it’s really inspiring, and with all the bad things that happen in the news, it’s nice to see people who are doing good.

  • Eileen – New Jersey said:

    Justine, the homeless child who was home schooled, is a story yet to be told. She still needs assistance and support. She needs a support group around her. It would be a story to be followed.

  • Cynthia said:

    I agree with the premise that Justine is turning her life around but the author’s point of view left me doubtful. Although Justine is an adult and clearly took responsibility for her circumstances after aging out of the court system, her circumstances were clearly the result of a troubled family and a weak social services system (the system is supposed to support teens who age out so they do not end up like Justine). Justine either chose not to call on support, or it was unavailable. I had questions about this that I feel the author should have cleared up. I had no understanding of the motivations behind her decisions. Justine’s decision to live as a homeless person rather than rely on traditional supports like family and social services is more complex than the author presented. I feel the article could have gone into more depth and appealed to a more critical reader. Justine had a complex set of problems to confront that were not interpreted by the author. At the end of the article, I had too many questions as a reader, both about the subject and the author. The article was engaging, however, and had a straight-forward tone reminiscent of personal interest stories in “Reader’s Digest.”

  • Frederick – New Hampshire said:

    This article on Justine, who sufferd so much as was yet able to not only pick herself up, carry on, get an education, as well as being able to reach out and help others is an inspiration. I would really like to become part of what you are accomplishing.

  • Jordan -- North Carolina said:

    Very rarely do we read firsthand accounts of adopted children who have lived through the foster family experience. Instead we are fed news reports that just state the facts, leaving us with a pit of hopeless despair in our stomachs, not knowing how we can help.

    This article was different in that we hear Justine’s experience from the time she was born to present day. We see her progression, her experiences that have shaped her into the young adult she is today, her aspirations and goals, and the terrible hardships she has had to overcome. Justine’s story is incredibly inspiring — teaching everyone no matter how little you have, you can always gather the courage to try again. As a 20-year old, Justine is willing to give back to others, even after her tumultuous upbringing. Her compassion and drive to succeed is a lesson to all of us!

    Every adopted child’s case is different, and we as a nation should treat each one individually without generalizations. This article provides insight into one of thousands of children who need our help. It’s a fresh perspective on homelessness— one that stays with us long after we’ve finished reading.

    Thank you very much for publishing this story.

  • Deepika – Mississippi said:

    I find this very inspiring. Also it makes one realise that how much we take for granted and how life is not easy. It makes me thank God for all he has given me and to strive to be a better person. I have grown up in a family where morals, values, education were of high importance. My dad always told us to be cheerful no matter what the situation is and I have lived by that.

  • Joanna – Maine said:

    this story deeply struck me because the writer did a terrific job of capturing the details surrounding Justine, from her family background, to her struggles as a homeless woman, to landing her first paycheck. I also appreciated the writer’s sensitivity to issues such as revealing Justine’s full name. There is a fine line to respect there, on one hand you’re a reporter but on the other hand you’re a compassionate person who wants to honor the privacy of your sources who have come to trust you.

  • Juniper – New Mexico said:

    While I read this article I kept looking at the picture of the young woman it was about. I was impressed by her personal stregth to survive difficult circumstances. As a mother and mental health professional I was touched by her story. Kristi Koons did a nice job capturing in a non confrontational manner Justine’s story. Some readers may take issue with the assertion that Justine experienced homelessness because she rebelled against her parents.The article was written to reflect the personal journey of Justine and I believe that Ms. Koons did that. If it was Justine’s believe that she experienced oppression in her home and that led to where she ended up, that is her experience. Ms. Koons honored Justine’s experience by documenting it in an honest manner.

    Thoughts about the website in general: I love the idea of focusing on personal strengths and sharing inspiration. I use the same focus when working as a therapist. People (worldwide) desperately want to feel connected to others and want learn from, share in, and be inspired by other peoples experiences. I believe your website provides an outlet for learning about other peoples lives and the good work they are doing externally or internally. Thank you, Juniper Deckerke

  • Jonathan – Arizona said:

    I was continually taken by the matter of fact way in which this story was presented. Rather than dramatize Justine’s descent into homelessness with social commentary and the attribution of blame, the author instead chose to state the situation plainly and without embellishment. For me, this rhetorical choice was the correct one because, as I learned during my own childhood, homelessness is not a tragedy that strikes suddenly but rather a slow, inescapable slide into a condition of helplessness. Even the story’s opening line “Home free” is a plain and powerful way to describe the emotional content to come. I liked it.

  • Delaney – Louisiana said:

    The human strength and kindness evidenced in this article is absolutely inspiring– not only Justine’s strength, but the compassion of her employers who hired her despite being homeless, and even eventually cosigned for her apartment.
    Other than the uplifting content, I liked it that the article delved into detail about Justine’s life, explaining her difficult circumstances in a restrictive, religious household without casting judgments on the family or disintegrating into pity. It provides enlightening points of history that show how easy it is to wind up a homeless youth, and the difficulty of getting out of such circumstances once one finds oneself in them. It is not a laundry list of biographical details, however, and is still interspersed with quotes from Justine and humanizing details– I especially appreciated the description of all her hair products lined up on a shelf. I thought it was a well-written article that manages to be inspiring without becoming maudlin or disingenuous.

    I’ve really enjoyed perusing your magazine and reading the various stories.

  • S N said:

    Justine received a chance of a lifetime after enduring her circumstances. The ability to sum up one’s life on those few pages is extraordinary. I enjoyed the journey and I was able to visualize what she had to go through. The moral I obtained from this article is to never give up no matter how tough the odds are. Remember that mountains are barriers; however, diligence is the key to overcoming one’s barriers and reaching for the horizon.

  • Christy – North Carolina said:

    I have to be honest and say that I was not really impressed with this article. First of all, there are people like that on every corner you turn. The article leaves the reader a little underwhelmed. Justine had a rough childhood, but the statement she made about her overbearing mother “causing” her to rebel, makes me think of a childish adolescent. Everyone has problems growing up, and it seems that her parents tried very hard to raise her right. My opinion is that if she was really “turning her life around”, she would first take responsibility for her own bad choices.

  • Deborah -- Ohio said:

    I’ve spent the weekend reading through your magazine. It is very inspiring. What I particularly like are the stories about people and pets simply living their lives in extraordinary ways. There are so many stories that stand out. The story of young Justine has been particularly haunting to me as I’ve moved from Kansas City to Columbus Ohio. In Kansas City, I lived in a comfortable, upper middle class neighborhood. In Columbus, Ohio, I live in a low income area. I see the Justine’s around me. Her journey is one of perseverance and one of never giving up on hope. I’m looking forward to reading through the rest of your site. Also, I would suggest that you add a Facebook “like” or a tweet button for people to share the stories. You have a sight that everyone needs to read.

  • Lou – Oregon said:

    I liked this article because it lets people who have been or are in a situation like hers know that things can get better. Sometimes people just need someone to give them a voice and let them know that their story matters and that what they have been through to get where they are now matters.

  • Kathy – Oregon said:

    I enjoyed the story about Justine and her difficult life and how she learned to make healthy choices for herself. My one criticism is that there were no direct quotes from anyone until many paragraphs into the story.

  • Stella said:

    I enjoyed the story about Justine and her difficult life and how she learned to make healthy choices for herself. My one criticism is that there were no direct quotes from anyone until many paragraphs into the story.

    I am very attracted to stories about people and how they got to where they are.

  • Jamila F said:

    This story is very heart filled, it is touching, and it makes you thankful for the things you take for granted. The author really brings the story alive, and it makes you feel as if your in the story itself. It is a great feature article and I would love to read more from this author.

  • Danielle – Cairo Egypt said:

    Although I enjoyed the content and inspiration that the article provided, I think that it was written in a rather disjointed manner. Koons tells Justine’s life story by jumping around without giving a comprehensive background explanation for events that she mentions; for example, the article leaves out whom she stayed with after the court ordered her to be separated from her adoptive family. Koons states that Justine went a residential treatment facility, but she does not explain this fully, or even partially. Additionally, Justine seems like a young woman with a very colorful personality, and I did not feel that the quotes Koons chose allowed Justine to come to life through her writing.

  • Jesse – Arizona said:

    This article is an absolutely compelling story. However there are several elements that are lost because they were either not clearly defined, or failed to be emphasized. This would include adding more motivational information in regard to the family and her interest or need in the job corp. With such an amazing story of triumph it is a shame that it isn’t written with this element more emphasized as a theme. If crafted differently it could drive the reader to not just finish the story, but realize that if this young woman can become successful with her tremendous challenges, anyone who is not facing such things should also. I appreciate the story and its message, I just feel that it could be executed in a more effective way.

  • Michelle – Florida said:

    Overall, I felt that this article presented facts about Justine’s hardships and life circumstances she had to endure. Justine’s life story should be an inspiration to us all. I can semi relate to her situation as I too was on the streets at age 17. It took a lot of self persevearance and drive to keep reaching and striving for my goals, just as Justine did. I think the writer of this article could have placed a little more emotion in her story to help bring Justine alive to the reader. As well, I felt too many details were left out, leaving questions that the reader had no way of answering. There was never any mention of her becoming pregnant yet the article mentions Justine had a miscarriage. Justine is a remarkable young woman who, no doubt, has faced mounds of hardships in her lifetime but didn’t let her struggles and hurtles slow her down. Young people today need all of the positive guidance they can receive. Justine is just the inspiration needed to help turn one’s life completely around

  • Melissa – Belgium said:

    This article is confusing time wise, is disjointed and doesn’t offer any insight as to why her job & apartment opportunities suddenly “come to an end”, nor the circumstances around her pregnancy & miscarriage. As well, what happened with her parents and younger brother? Why did she have to go to Eugene to join Job Corps, is it the only program available for teens like Justine? At the end of the article it mentions receiving help from those Justine inspired…but there was no mention of anyone she has inspired. Who are these people? Lastly, it doesn’t attempt to offer help to girls like Justine by offering suggestions or tips or words of encouragement. While I totally agree that Justine is a strong, determined girl that is surviving despite life throwing her some pretty terrible curve balls, the article doesn’t do her justice.

  • Monica – Florida said:

    To be honest, I couldn’t get through this whole article. The writer did not manage to “capture” me – although the subject was quite interesting. I was especially turned off by the random use of bold-faced sentences. This use of emphasis makes me think one of two things: 1. The information is not interesting and therefore the writer must highlight it by other means; 2. The author is insulting your intelligence and has to “tell” you – as opposed to “show” you – which tidbits of information are the most interesting and important.

  • Jessica said:

    This article hit home for me as I lived a similar situation as a child. The article was well thought out and provided an adequate highlight of Justine’s turmoil. With that being said, as a reader I feel as though the article could have benefited from more detail. One thing that caught my attention was “For a month and a half she worked cleaning dorms for the University of Oregon. Then she experienced a miscarriage requiring even more medical services.” It was never mentioned previously that she had been pregnant. It leaves a lot of open questions for the reader. When did she become pregnant? How far along was she? Readers, but especially the women, would notice things like this. It’s almost as if it was thrown in as an afterthought. Overall, this article was well written and as I’ve already stated, provided an adequate highlight of Justine’s turmoil.

  • Meryl – Texas said:

    I recently read a memoir about a homeless boy entitled One Way Ticket to Nowhere by Rich Ochoa and found it very moving and motivational. At 17 after an abusive childhood, Rich was finally turned away by both his parents and was determined to graduate High School and go on to College. I was curious about Justine’s story and that’s what drew me to read it. I found the article interesting but a little difficult to follow as it seemed to bounce around a bit and mention events seemingly out of nowhere. One example is Justine’s miscarriage. It mentions she had one but had not previously mentioned a pregnancy.

  • Julie -- Indiana said:

    This article presented the facts of Justine’s life journey and the obstacles that she has overcome. Although I can empathize with Justine’s struggles, and admire her perseverance, as I reader I found it difficult to connect with the story due to lack of emotion from the author. The writing style of the author is more informational rather than inspirational and thought provoking. Clearly, this is an amazing young woman who could have chosen a number of paths that would have taken her down a road of no return. I would have enjoyed seeing the author use this inspiring story as a tool to empower other young people to control their own destiny rather than be a victim of circumstance.

    I greatly admire the work that you are doing with Winners Within Us. I am a firm believer that positive breeds more positive. It is a breath of fresh air to know that people like you are so committed to creating change in a world that so desperately needs it.

  • Joseph said:

    i have read and over looked some articles in the archives and found some to be conFlicting within my personal oppinion, while some were very touching and seemed almost sentimental to me. I enjoyed this story of the 19 year old girl Justine, and how she managed to go from off the streets to being able to hold steady jobs. It was inspiring to see her actually desire to better herself. I also found it as a breath of fresh air that the writer didn’t shy away from the prelude of the actual life conflict. Such as how her Adoptive mother was abusive and restricting. The inclusion of the hard life issues was refreshing to see, like how she lived under a bridge and how in all the time of personal issues she had miscarried. I found this article and several others to be inspiring to say the least.

  • Leah -- Ohio said:

    This article caught my attention right away.

    The number of children living in poverty is higher than it has been in years. I was eager to learn how Justine became homeless, and exactly what she is doing to break the cycle of poverty in her life.

    Though the artice did an excellent job of reconstructing the timeline of events, it lacked emotion. I would have liked to have heard more quotes from Justine. Her actions and resilience indicate that she is a remarkable young woman with a wealth of experience and inspiration to share with readers. This article did not give Justine the opportunity to express that.

  • Jill -- Wisonsin said:

    Justine’s story was nice, but dry. There is a lot of meat in that story. This girl suffers abuse at the hands of her parents and her boyfriend, medical problems and homelessness and finds her way back. Yet the article reads like a laundry list.

  • James -- Virginia said:

    There were parts of it that I did like and parts of it that I did not enjoy as much. I specifically enjoyed the fact that the story leaves the reader with a sense of triumph and determination. However, I would recommend that the person conducting the interview and investigation of Justine’s story should have either gathered or written more information on Justine and made a note as to how her personal choices led to the consequences she faced. I would also suggest writing a little more formally so as to be more informative.
    The writer does a good job not writing over the heads of her audience. The article reads simply and also conversationally which is beneficial to today’s e-zine and magazine reader.

  • Tina -- Pennsylvania said:

    I love the idea of the article. There is nothing more powerful than hearing about someone who takes many hits in life and finds their way back through sheer will and determination. I felt that the article could have focused a bit more on how she felt when she was in the difficult situations and what motivated her to keep going. Also, it would have been great to have some inspirational message to others going through her situation. It was a good article. If it read less like a text book, and had a little more emotion, it would have been a great article.

  • Alexia -- Egypt said:

    I felt that her story is very moving. I like stories that touch people with experiences. Her situation was tough being homeless and jobless, and it is also something a lot of people need to hear. There is a lot of situations like this in my city, but amazing people come out of bad situations. Something that I have learned. The only thing that I would change about this article is the fact I feel like the author should of used more discription. Trying to bring her own opinion in her life story would make it even more touching. I love people and I love to hear their stories.

  • Alex -- the Editor said:

    Maria, the reason for my bolding certain passages in the text is to allow browsing of the article. This is an attempt on my part to cater to what I believe is the reading style of people perusing articles on the Internet. Perhaps I am wrong. I have received a lot of comments asking about this and, consequently, I have stopped doing it during the last 30 days.

  • Maria -- Canada said:

    The writing was decent (if not extraordinary) and the random chunks of bolded text threw me off a bit, but the subject matter is definitely close to my heart–I’m currently working at a homeless shelter (as an unpaid intern) and in a foster home in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, so Justine’s experiences with both the shelter system and children’s aid services resonated with me on a somewhat personal level.

    I am not an overly sentimental person, but the kinds of stories that really “get” me the most usually have to do with overcoming adversity and giving back. I consider both these things indispensable in terms of inspiring and teaching others who are still struggling and I have nothing but admiration for the people whose lives lead them down that kind of a path. I also have immense respect for men and women who make a living and a life out of helping others (and in my line of work I see them pretty much every day). I honestly believe that society would fall apart without them, and it’s so rare that their work and accomplishments are highlighted in any meaningful way.

  • Colleen -- Canada said:

    I expected this to be a well written, heart warming story of motivation and courage and was I sadly disappointed to discover that this was not the case. The article read more like a case file than a good story of woe and inspiration. It lacked a human touch and heart. It did not flow well. To be honest I have had more enjoyment reading a restaurant menu than this article. I was very disappointed. Please do not get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed reading some of the other articles on this site, this just was not one of them.

  • Julie -- Washington said:

    I have read Justine’s story and I have heard of it before. This hits home with me. It is definitely a local story, but a nationwide problem.

  • Julie -- Idaho said:

    What a great story. I have a similar story to share, but another time. There a too many homeless people in the United States of America and it is about time we recognize it. The USA has more starving people and children than any other developed county. This is sad not only for them but for us as citizens living in a free country. We have the right and freedom to help whomever we choose and we have chosen to leave the poor behind.

  • Amber said:

    I have to start off by saying that I feel what you are doing with this magazine and website is very commendable. It rarely happens that someone showcases those that are doing good for others and themselves rather than choosing those that just make headlines regardless of their ethics. With that said I thought that the article was very well written. I do however feel that it could have been more personal. It seemed to state very mundane facts instead of really diving deep into how this young woman felt while leaving her home, living on the streets and then eventually turning her own life around and deciding to help others. I am not saying that those little details such as specifics on where she was and where she worked should not be included because they most definitely should. I am only saying that if the article was written more about her emotions for each stage in her life it might have come across with a more personal feeling that others could relate to better.

  • Lacey -- Utah said:

    I think this article was well written, but it left me with a few questions. Why did her family allow her to be homeless? When she moved back to Texas did she have any contact with her family? Has she ever tried to contact her biological parents? Why would her parents adopt her and then keep her behind in school and physically abuse her? Perhaps no one has the answer to some of these questions. Perhaps some articles could use a follow-up article. One year later we could interview Justine again and see how much farther she’s come. Draw even more inspiration from her. In summary, I feel like Justine’s story isn’t over yet and one of my pet-peeves is unfinished stories. I want to know that she is living “happily ever after.” However, even without the conclusion I want for this story, I still found it inspirational and think it was written well for readers who aren’t suckers for fairy-tale-endings like me.

  • Amanda H said:

    I was flicking through the articles on offer on the website and lingered longer on this one mainly due to the photo of a young girl binding her hair in a bandana. The image of this girl, to me, was a positive look and shows pride in appearance to others which made me think about how life shaped her in this way. Then I read the first few paragraphs at a glance and breathed in the rest.

    Generally adoption is a blessing for people who want to share their world with children. Not only that but it is normally a blessing for the children to find loving homes with people who truly want to have them in their lives. This was obviously not the case for Justine. There seems to be no doubt that the parents wanted her and her younger brother but their ideas of raising the children were in a strict and ultimately provided a suffocating environment. Coupling the strict regime and the social isolation of home schooling, there is little doubt as to why rebellion would have been on the cards for any normal teenager. The inclusion of violent physical punishments makes a home environment toxic for a child, not just suffocating. This background information sets up the story in such a way that the reader is yearning for some glimmer of hope that this child’s story is going to truly turn around and that a rescue be swift.

    However, leaving her childhood home and receiving a proper education was not the end of this child’s suffering. She became homeless and developed Mono which is a disease without a cure. Mono typically lasts about four weeks and disappears of its’ own accord but recurring bouts would leave the system wide open to other infections and the patient would be, as Justine was, bedridden from fatigue. I can only imagine what this must have been like for an 18 year old girl, but I would expect among the feelings of fear there would be a great degree of determination in this girl as she had overcome so much to even get this far on her journey. I am not disappointed in reading that she managed to find, not just one job, but converted a part-time job into a full-time job and picked up a weekend job too. At nearly 20 years of age she was worrying about her credit rating due to the hospital bills which had arisen from her frequent need of care. This tiny bit of information about the worry of Justine is just enough insight into her personality to reveal that she is a responsible young woman who is going to make a difference in the immediate world around her.

    With her life finally taking a positive turn the article moves its focus slightly from the life of Justine to her future intentions which have come about due to her move to Austin, Texas. Incredibly, after building her life up to a place where she had income and the security of an apartment she moved to help her friend after an operation and continues her plans for her new life with plans of attending University.

    The reason I chose this article to review was because after first reading I had gathered much information about this girl and it was most definitely worth the second read. The article itself is very structured and follows the flow which allows the reader to truly sink their teeth into the details of her life. I do agree with one commenter (AD) who states that the article itself “is lacking emotion.” As this reader has stated that they have experienced homelessness I believe they are looking for a connection that a writer who has not had this experience can simply not give. However, the author leaves their description open and gives enough detail that an avid reader has the ability to fill in the blanks for themselves.
    Thank you for taking the time to read through my comments. This magazine is not widely read in Ireland and so when I heard about it I looked up the website and decided to have a read through the stories. There are many stories I would have written on but this was one that I really enjoyed reading. The end was left open and it was left for the reader to wonder if Justine managed to get through University and what was in store for her next.

  • andrea -- Utah said:

    I read the article about Justine, a homeless girl who has turned her life around, and I thought it was pretty good. It is fairly amazing what people can overcome though it does make me realize that with all of the opportunities I’ve been given I should be able to accomplish so much more with my life.

  • Lisa MJ -- New Mexico said:

    This story particularly touched me because during my time here in Santa Fe, I have been homeless, and thanks to a job that fell through, I am homeless again — though technically, I am “couch surfing” at various friends places.

    I agree with the readers comments about how inspiring the story is and I wish her the best. And, as for those readers who are critical of the writing style, I can only laugh and shake my head.

    I know my comments may not be exactly what you are looking for, but right now, I am dealing with my own personal issues related to my situation. Stories like hers (and other homeless people I have met in the Santa Fe area — especially at the soup kitchen where I volunteer) give me what I describe as a “spiritual recharge” that keeps me going.

    My situation is nowhere near hers and, had it been, I am not sure how long I could have survived it. My situation is simply learning the hard way that two MAs in Sociology does not equal employment.

    I know this letter sounds very self-absorbed, but I cannot help it. I am currently in “self-preservation” mode.

  • Yadira -- Puerto Rico said:

    Great story and very empowering to young people who are brought up under difficult circumstances. Her will to get out of the situation and make a positive life of her own is remarkable. Growing up, I also lived through some tough experiences, so I could identify myself with this girl and look back and be proud at myself about how far I’ve come.

  • Yadira said:

    This is definitely an empowering story. It is very admiring how this young lady followed her will to excel and make a better life for herself. It definitely sets an example for kids out there who are or might be going through similar, tough situations, and it is their desire to graduate, get a decent job and follow their dreams and goals. Of course this is not the case with many but it shows hat it is possible. It is a mixture of courage, drive, will and many other things that can overcome all the situations she had to go through. These are the kind of life’s experiences that makes us stronger and as we grow older, can look back, smile and be proud.

  • Rachel K -- California said:

    This young woman, Justine, has been through so much, and the fact that she gave up a finally stable situation, to care for a friend says so much about her personality. This story gives hope to others in unpleasant situations, and shows that just because you weren’t raised in the best of situations you can still have a loving, caring, and giving spirit.

    I think the article is well written, but it has this feeling of being rushed. It seems like Kristi Koons was in a hurry or didn’t have
    enough information to fill out the paragraphs. I do love that all of the articles on Winners Within Us are stories of individuals in
    our society that have shown courage, kindness, and giving and selfless spirits.

    I really enjoyed looking around your site, and I look forward to returning to read more articles.

  • Charity -- Hawaii said:

    I liked this story focused on the plight of youth as I believe that issues impacting them have a longer term impact for both the individuals suffering and the overall positive and spiritual evolution of mankind. Homelessness is a multi-faceted “catch 22″ situation in which I myself have chosen to participate in solutions every where I have lived since I was 15 and let’s just say, I am nearly 3 times that age now. For instance, just the instance of looking for work requires one to ‘clean up’ to be presentable yet often homeless persons do not have convenient access to showering facilities, clean clothing, etc., not to mention trasportation. One thing that immediately struck me about this particular story was that military people were involved and choosing to be part of problems rather than solutions although on the surface many would have looked in and concluded what a wonderful act of kindness this was to take in needy children. Per Biblical scripture, without love and pure motives, if I have not love, acts of even apparent sacrifice, do not profit the doer anything. So, an empty action returns null and void although may ironically still be turned into an eventual positive outcome such as is the case herein – a stronger individual decided to take matters into her own hands and make things happen. Thank you for the fantastic work you are part of here. Momentum for positive deeds and true transformation one act at a time.

    Godspeed, Charity

  • Maken zie said:

    I just read Justine, The homeless girl. I liked it I thinks its really touching and real.

  • AC said:

    Honestly, this was well written. I am a critic at heart and I assure you, I have no desire to satiate the emotions of a cyber-stranger. The author was calculating in the conclusion of His/Her article. Meaning He/She knew what He/She wanted to say, and how it was to be said. Albeit, the artice was not a ‘I must read again’ article, although it had great opportunites to evoke real inspiration within myself. After reading it, I merely was a rooter for Justine, and hoped she would continue her path to Success. I did not attain from the author the seriousness of Justine’s plight; considering homelessness is no well written exposition. It is a serious thing. The author tried to showcase the seriousness of Justine’s homeless situation by merely numbering what she went through. We know she had mono twice, had an abusive boyfriend, and lost a child to miscarriage; too sequential and void of context to grip and hold the reader to make us feel Justine’s pain.

    I truly did love, however the way the writer made us laugh–he gave us a weak connect to Justine. And we know, or can glean that Justine has managed to keep an optimistic attitude about having once been homeless. As she has, “learned how expensive my high maintenance hair can be,”. Yeah so we know of Justine, and of her once truly, dangerous plight; and we can only imagine the horrors behind it, seeing as it was not truly given or shown to us by the writer. But we are still there silently, but faintly rooting for Justine.

    But, who am I to judge a concise, and still yet emotive tickler which the writer has so graciously given us. Perhaps, in this short article is the genius of a great editor, that merely wanted to write a story of Justine; not to create a tear jerker.

  • Kerery said:

    I just read the story of Justine and I have to say wow! And props to Justine! She is such an inspiration. I can’t say anything negative about her or the story. All I can say is great things.

    I wish more people in this world were like Justine. The wonderful thing about Justine is she didn’t give up, nor did she sit back and have a pity party.

    Her determination is not just an excellent example of a human being, but inspires me to be the best I can be!

  • jb said:

    This story touched me to a certain extent because she was and still is in my age bracket when all of this happened. She had it tough enough, being adopted and all. Though the physical abuse did not stop her determination. It’s amazing how the teens that have caring, loving parents and a home to live in drop out and do nothing with their lives, but she obtained her G.E.D being homeless. That fact right there should motivate anyone!

  • Kerry said:

    I just read the story of Justine: How A Homeless Girl Is Turning Her Life Around. I have to say wow! And props to Justine! She is such an inspiration. I can’t say anything negative about her or the story. All I can say is great things.

    I wish more people in this world were like Justine. The wonderful thing about Justine is she didn’t give up, nor did she sit back and have a pity party. Her determination is not just an excellent example of a human being, but inspires me to be the best I can be!

  • AD said:

    In my opinion, the article was very informative on Justine’s situtation. It was very well articulated and written. However, I believe that it is lacking emotion. When I read I want to have an emotional connection with the reader. Being homeless my self once before, I know how hard and extremely depressing it can be. If I wrote the article I would have tried to get a more emotional response out of Justine in reagrds to her b eing homeless. I want the reader to feel what Justine feels.

  • Jennifer said:

    The above article and John Ferrante: How He Grew From Violence to Honored Teacher and Healer by Janis McGrath. These two articles attracted my attention because the focus of both is on people who, in spite of hardship, have made something generative out of their lives. While I didn’t think the writing in either article was particularly lively, the articles were clear and easy to read, and the lives portrayed were of interest to me.

    I am interested in revealing the strengths and activities of individuals who effect real change despite social or environmental challenges. I support the goal of re-contextualizing what a “winner” might consist of, and I understand that the goal of your publication might be to empower individuals to survive, thrive, and build ethical lives under any personal or social circumstance. I appreciate that the idea of someone leading an inspiring or ethical life is not, as I have understood from those two articles, connected to a particular faith-based agenda but resides in the individual.

  • Kristi Koons said:

    Thanks for all the great responses to Justine’s story!

    I have not spoken to Justine since just after the story was written. She was still in touch with her family at that point, just not planning on going back home to live. Her brother remained in the home.

    As for how she’s doing currently, I’d been considering doing an update on her story. I will see if her previous e-mail address is still valid and let her know to check the site and see all the fans she now has.

    I’m sure she’ll be as much in awe as I am that so many people were touched by her strong spirit and brave choices.

    Thanks again!


    Kristi Koons

  • Todd Ratajik said:

    Wow! What an uplifting article, Justine is an amazing girl. It’s wonderful to see people happy, and you just get that sense from reading the article. Very well written as well.

  • Diane said:

    I also notice that the article says that Justine was separated from her family by the course. Does that mean Justine’s little brother is still living with the parents? Does Justine ever get to talk to her little brother?

  • Diane said:

    Go Justine!

    I am a foster mother and had a teen girl who had so many issues. So many girls in her situation turn to prostitution and/or drugs in order to survive the streets. I don’t know Justine but I feel proud of her that she tries to make the right choices.

    I am curious about a couple of things. Does Justine ever talk to her parents? Is it possible for her to live with them again now that she is older?

    I also want to know this: Does she feel that being raised in the church has helped her?

    Good luck to Justine and God bless her and keep her safe.
    Justine, if you read this, could you please answer those questions? Thank you and good luck! You sound like a good girl with a good head on her shoulders. I have a feeling that you’re going to get far and make something of your life. Good luck in college!

  • Shirley T said:

    I am really inspired by the story about Justine and the way she turned her life around. What a brave girl!

  • Cass W said:

    I was swept up reading your stories. I loved the one of Justine turning her life around. What a brave girl!

  • Julie said:

    What an incredible young woman. Just think about the alternative choices she could have made, the alternative attitude(s) she could have adopted, and who would have blamed her for them? It seems to me she will go far in life because she has chosen not to be a victim, to fight back against those who would victimize her, to walk her own road, her own way. She’s an inspiration. Thanks for bringing us her story.

  • ColleenC said:

    I read the story about Justine and what it tribute to her it is that she has been able to get her life back on track.

    I love your magazine! What a great idea to write about people who are awe inspiring in one way or another. So often I have heard stories of how people have overcome the odds in their life in one way or another and your magazine is a great place to publish these stories.

    Those taking the time to read your stories will find them to be very inspirational.

  • SuperDwayne said:

    I think, this story is amazing, it tells of so many different array of subjects, I think its important to take from this that people should not be forced into church, because thats when people rebel.

    I am almost 21 now and my life has been easy so far apart from the odd hard exam or 2 , but to hear this story and to know that she made it through is amazing well done :)

  • kimba said:

    As an attractive, spirited teenager, Justine should have had the world at her feet but life dealt her some tough cards. However, she has proved that she has the tenacity and determination to overcome anything this crazy world has to throw at her. Now, Justine plans to use her experiences to help others. To be able to rise above adversity and remain focused at such a young age denonstrates how special this young woman really is. Let’s hope she fulfils her potential. A role model for all ages.

  • joe_kawano said:

    Powerful. Justine reminds us all of the power we have within us to shape and reshape our lives at will. She reminds me deeply of my wife, who also dealt with the pressures of a restrictive religious upbringing, and dealt with similar problems before turning her life around in a direction even better than before.

  • Heliand said:

    Justine’s story is so inspirational and really illustrates how in life, even when everything seems dark and scary and hopeless, if you really want something and fight for it, then people and luck will smile at you.
    I am convinced that strenghtened by all these experiences Justine will be happy and successful in all sectors of life, at work, at home and in social circles, because she is an authentic winner from within.

  • je21na said:

    Justine thank you for setting an amazing example for all of us, that we can overcome anything! I was owned by the state of California and grew up in many Foster homes in my youth. My goal was to go to college and it was so hard to get there, but I did it and it was the best experience of my life. Now I am 27, married, have a little boy and looking back at everything I went through that was so hard and sad when I was young I realized it has made me so much stronger today. You will bless the lives of others because of everything you went through. Thank you.

  • joanch said:

    I read the article on Justine in ‘Community–Winning Youth.’
    Wow. What a wonderful story. I am struck by her courage and unrelenting strength in the face of adversity. I have experienced many challenges this past year myself. I too have overcome. I respect her integrity. What a beautiful young woman. When we honer one, we honer us all and ultimately… ourselves.

    Thanks for the public forum.

  • firehzard said:

    Nice Post.

  • naheed said:


    I must say I found the story of how Justine, an underprivileged young lady turned her life around, to be most inspirational and interesting.

  • scandycuz said:

    This is my favorite current story. I think its a great example of what a strong drive and desire to succeed can accomplish. its also a good reminder of the kindness that some people can still show in trying to help others.

  • jennas said:

    This article is so inspiring.

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