JustOne Foundation founder and Executive Director Justin Washington grew up the youngest in a family of four children. They lived in a modest home at 615 Julian Street on the east side of Greensboro, North Carolina.
Justin remembers his family as strong and always on the go. “We didn’t spend much time together during the week, but Sunday was a big day for us as a family,” he says. “Every Sunday we would have dinner together. That was our bonding time. My mother would cook those dinners, but a lot of times before she sat down to eat, she would stand in the doorway smiling, just watching us be a family. I think it pleased her to see those dinners bring us together and know she pulled it off.”
Justin remembers his neighborhood as full of children. “There were so many kids my age, and I knew everybody,” he recalls. “It seems like the sun was always out, and we played all the time—usually at Douglas Park. It never occurred to us to leave the neighborhood. We just played.”
Unlike his older brother and two sisters who attended nearby Dudley High School, when the time came for Justin to enroll in high school, he was assigned to Grimsley—four or five miles and, in many ways, a world apart from his east Greensboro neighborhood. “I got caught in the beginnings of busing,” he says. “Until then, I hadn’t been exposed to many people outside my neighborhood. I didn’t know who was who, and it was pretty scary.”
After graduation from Grimsley, Justin enrolled at North Carolina A&T University, majoring in industrial technology. “I rode college out as long as I could until I realized I was not a very good student. Then I joined the Navy.”
In his 20 years in the military, Justin traveled the world, serving a tour in Beirut and taking part in Operation Desert Storm. “On leave, my friends and I would walk the streets of Europe. We would see guys playing soccer in the streets and we would play with them,” he recalls. “There may have been language barriers, but there were no communication barriers. We were all just kids. We just played.”
After his retirement from the Navy, Justin returned to Greensboro and went to work for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department as a detention officer. He spent the last three years of his 15 years in law enforcement working at the Guilford County Prison Farm, interviewing and selecting inmates to work at the farm. “I learned a lot about people in that job, finding out what their stories were and trying to figure out which ones were fit to work in public.”
Justin retired in 2012. “I’ve spent the time since then, trying to adapt to civilian life.”
He maintains ties to the military as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Chapter 2087 and the Armed Forces Retirement Club. He is also an active member of the St. John’s Lodge #12, Prince Hall Masons.
In 2014, Justin’s support of a candidate who successfully ran for a seat on the Greensboro City Council led to his appointment to the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commission, a body he now chairs. “She said she had some slots to fill, and I chose Parks and Recreation because my passion is playing and having a good time,” he says. “I thought I would be in charge of basketballs.”
Additional appointments to the Guilford County Parks and Recreation Commission and boards of the Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. and Healthy America Initiative followed.
The inspiration to create the JustOne Foundation came in 2016 when Justin and Lenora Lee—a classmate from first grade through Grimsley High School and a fellow VFW member—wanted to plan a neighborhood Easter egg hunt. “We approached a service organization and asked for help, and they turned us down cold,” Justin remembers. “But we were determined. I got to calling some people from Parks and Recreation and we pulled in every resource we needed. So the foundation got started because we got angry at being turned down and wanted to show this group we could do it ourselves. And the Easter egg hunt was a huge success.”
With his first successful event as motivation, Justin returned to college, earning a certificate in Non-Profit Management at Guilford Technical Community College. He also has a certificate in Human Resource Management from Guilford Tech. In early 2017, he acquired official status for the foundation as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit organization. Lenora Lee serves on the foundation board.
In the years since the first Easter egg hunt, the JustOne Foundation has organized dozens of events and supported a number of worthy causes. “All it takes is getting to know people in the community to find out what kinds of events they will turn out for and knowing the right people to call to make it happen,” says Justin.
“My reward—my joy is in seeing families having a good time—seeing people smiling. Like my mother used to stand in the doorway smiling at her family during those Sunday dinners, I like watching families at these events and knowing I got it together and pulled it off.”
Justin and his wife, a retired school principal, have two grown daughters, both with careers in the military and law enforcement, and two grandchildren. In his spare time, Justin enjoys cross-training and riding his motorcycle.