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29 June, 2018

Celebrating 20 Years of First Place!

By |2018-07-07T13:10:22+00:00June 29th, 2018|Categories: Events, News|Tags: , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

On May 17, First Place for Youth hosted long-time supporters and their guests, current and former participants, and our staff at an evening celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary. The event offered and opportunity to acknowledge and honor the work of those who have made First Place what it is today.

View Video Highlights:

In her remarks, our current board chair Jen Friedman reflected on how far First Place has come, from our first backyard barbecue fundraiser to housing nearly 600 young people last year. Jen spoke passionately about First Place founder’s Deanne Pearn and Amy Lemley, and their bold idea to address the homelessness and poverty that they saw effecting so many foster youth. She also recognized how the long-term leadership and guidance of former-CEO Sam Cobbs and Board Member Emeritus Steven LaFrance has helped First Place grow as an organization and establish strong, evidence-based practice without losing touch with the need to connect with our program participants as individuals. It was a reflection that Jen is particularly well positioned to share, as she and her husband have been supporters of First Place since that very first fundraiser.

Our Interim CEO, Hellen Hong, took the stage with an impassioned speech on the resilience and bravery of the young people in foster care, and she highlighted the incredible importance of First Place’s approach of building trustful relationships with our participants. Only through a solid basis of trust, she said, can First Place staff truly provide a guiding hand as our youth learn what it means to have agency and control over their lives. When youth learn to trust their First Place team, they also learn to trust in themselves and believe in their capacity to reach and exceed goals and expectations.

As always, the most important voices of the evening were the young people who had the opportunity to share what First Place has meant to them.  Before sharing their spoken word poetry with the attendees, First Place participant Sais explained that First Place provided, “a community that accepts me and supports me and helps me be my best self.”

Later in the program, Keelin, who is currently a peer educator in our Solano County office, shared how his initial reluctance to get involved with First Place turned into enthusiasm when he realized there were people who understood his experiences. He explained that being a peer educator now gives him a chance to help others open up and find the same support that he did.

“It’s not what you know, but who you know,” Keelin said in closing. “And the who, for me, is First Place for Youth.”

Tempest Smith, an Education and Employment Specialist for First Place who is also an alumna of the program, explained how reflecting on her own journey through foster care and My First Place helps her offer guidance to those who are walking that path now.

“You have the power to change your future,” she tells them.

Also featured during the event were musical performances by First Place participants James and Ciara. James performed “Unstoppable,” an original composition about overcoming the hard times and having the courage to go on. Ciara closed the evening’s program with her rendition of Rhianna’s “Diamonds.”

Thank you to all involved in the success of the evening, including Impact Hub, The Town Kitchen, James and the Giant Cupcake, all of our staff and participants, and of course, thank you to all of those who have supported us during our first twenty years.

There is so much more to come.

In our first 20 years, First Place served nearly 10,000 young people. With your continued support, we can have an even greater impact in the future. Donate Now.

27 June, 2018

Congratulations Graduates!

By |2018-06-27T18:07:04+00:00June 27th, 2018|Categories: What’s New|0 Comments

The San Francisco and Solano County Independent Living Skills Programs each hold graduation ceremonies in the spring to recognize the accomplishments of their participants who have earned their high school diploma or GED in the last 12 months. The ceremonies, which took place June 7 at San Francisco’s Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel and June 21 at the Fairfield Downtown Theater, allow ILSP participants to celebrate as a community, receiving acknowledgement from others who understand the unique challenges that they have faced on the path to completing high school.

This year more than 80 young people reached this educational milestone and were eligible to participate in ILSP graduation. Many of these graduates were participants in our ILSP First Foundation program, a structured program designed to help young people who have fallen behind or are at risk of dropping out make the strides necessary to graduate on time.

Mia accepts the Leadership award at SF ILSP Graduation

The keynote speaker at the Solano County graduation was a familiar face to many, as our former CEO Sam Cobbs took the stage to share his own story of perseverance and the lessons he has learned along the way.

With diplomas in hand, the majority of ILSP’s graduates are headed to college in the fall. To help them get ready for the next step in their academic and life journeys, staff presented participants with backpacks and gift baskets stocked with basic necessities.

“I want to thank you all for being here,” one participant’s grandmother said, speaking to First Place staff after the ceremony. “This program has been a blessing to my granddaughter.”

25 June, 2018

Honoring Our Parenting Youth

By |2018-06-27T17:55:49+00:00June 25th, 2018|Categories: Events, News|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Parenting is hard work. It can be doubly hard for young parents, especially if they don’t have a strong network of support.

Foster youth are significantly more likely to be parents by age 19 than their non-foster care peers. They are also more likely to have a child placed in foster care. Nearly a quarter of the young people who join First Place have or are expecting children when they enter our program, and these young parents often cite their desire to be good parents and give their children a better life as a major factor in choosing to First Place.

Just as we help our program participants develop the skills and find the resources they need to succeed in school and career, we also help them build stronger parenting skills and connect them with additional support and resources. Every day, we see how hard they are working to build better futures for themselves and their children, and we recently took time out to celebrate their dedication at Mother’s and Father’s Day events.

A tea party brunch in May gave our moms the chance to come together and share their experiences with motherhood as they enjoyed a sweet and savory treats served by First Place staff. They day also offered art activities for their children, and a professional photographer was on hand to provide family portraits.

In June, it was the dads’ turn to celebrate with a trip to the bowling alley and a meal together that offered time to talk about what it means to them to be fathers. Of course, no Father’s Day is complete without a heartfelt card and a gift of socks.

“I believe it’s important to show our mothers and fathers [in program] that we are proud of them and support their journey,” said Carmen Gomez, Administrative Associate in First Place’s Oakland Office, who led the planning of the events.

Show your support of First Place and help give our young parents the stability they need to begin creating a better life for themselves and their children. Donate now.

21 June, 2018

Experiencing Campus Life

By |2018-06-29T20:42:42+00:00June 21st, 2018|Categories: What’s New|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments

At First Place, we know that all of our young people have the potential to achieve long-term success and self-sufficiency. We also know that in today’s world, post-secondary education is a vital to provide a foundation on which to build that long-term success. But colleges aren’t one size fits all. With so much of today’s college application process focusing on applicants proving that they are the “right choice” for admission, it’s important for young people to understand how to choose the school that’s right for them.

Visiting schools is an important part of that decision making process. Every school and campus is a community with its own unique vibe. And each school has it’s own strengths. A day on campus can go a long way in helping young people figure out whether their strengths and the school’s are a match and if there is a community they want to be a part of.

For foster youth, however, making college visits can be a challenge. Many foster youth lack the resources to travel and don’t have someone to guide them through the process of scheduling a visit. That’s where First Place for Youth comes in. Our staff not only provide one-on-one support to help our young people through the college application process, but also coordinate group campus tours every year.

In May, First Place Los Angeles staff took 11 of our participants on a “field trip” that offered them opportunity to experience a taste of what it’s like to be a student at the University of San Diego and San Diego State University. The overnight visit allowed youth to get a sense of the campuses and the San Diego community, and gain perspective on what it means to be in a university setting.

At our Santa Clara County office, staff have been working in partnership with other regional organizations, including the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the HUB (Bill Wilson Center), to host a weekly series of day trips to Bay Area colleges this month. These trips were open to both current and former foster youth, from age 14 – 25, and gave young people the opportunity to explore the wide variety of postsecondary options available, from San Jose City College to UC Berkeley.

We hope that these trips give our participants greater enthusiasm for the next step in their educational journey and a stronger sense of what to look for in their college choices.

To see pictures from LA’s San Diego trip, click the thumbnail below!

Your support allows us to continue to provide diverse enrichment opportunities for the young people we serve. Donate now.

8 June, 2018

First Place Honored at “Your Time to Shine”

By |2018-06-27T18:11:00+00:00June 8th, 2018|Categories: News, What’s New|Tags: , , |0 Comments

First Place for Youth was among those honored at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles’ “Your Time to Shine” event in May. The evening recognized and honored the work being done by the grantees of the Foundation’s General Community Grants program to support at-risk individuals and communities in Los Angeles.

The Foundation’s General Community Grants program has provided over $2 million dollars to organizations in the Los Angeles are over the last decade, and First Place is proud to be among those organizations benefiting from the Foundation’s support. Our Interim CEO, Hellen Hong, was present representing First Place.

Check out the video from the Foundation to see highlights from the evening and hear from Hellen and other grantee representatives about why this kind of community support matters.

Established in 1954, the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles manages more than $1 billion of assets entrusted to it by over 1,300 families. The Foundation partners with donors to shape meaningful philanthropic strategies, magnify the impact of giving, and build enduring charitable legacies. Learn more at www.jewishfoundationla.org

7 June, 2018

CEO Search Underway

By |2018-06-08T11:37:44+00:00June 7th, 2018|Categories: Featured Job Post|0 Comments

First Place for Youth has begun the search for the next Chief Executive Officer to lead our organization into a new era of impact and geographic expansion. With the uncompromising belief that collectively we can eliminate the disparities young people in foster care experience as they enter adulthood, along with a commitment to continually use data in authentic ways to inform, shape, and advance policies and practices, First Place has built a strong national brand and we are poised for increased impact through the expansion of our My First Place Affiliate Network.

This opportunity requires a charismatic leader with an exceptional combination of qualities, skills, and experiences:

  • Sophisticated understanding of executive leadership in child welfare, education, workforce development, or a related field;
  • Proven ability to grow and scale an effective model to the national stage;
  • Track record of supporting the use of data and evaluation (grounded in the power of youth voice) to prove impact and improve programming;
  • Demonstrated commitment to equity and inclusion internally and externally;
  • Bold and effective approach to fundraising; and
  • Proven success convening a broad set of stakeholders in advancing evidence-informed policy change at the national level

We have partnered with NPAG, a national executive search and consulting firm that is dedicated to serving the mission-driven community, to conduct this search. Learn more about the role and review the instructions for providing nominations or submitting an application.

26 March, 2018

Meet Dre

By |2018-06-22T15:52:45+00:00March 26th, 2018|Categories: What’s New, Youth Stories|Tags: |0 Comments

Dre is the first one to admit that when he moved into his First Place for Youth apartment, he wasn’t prepared for all the intensive support the program provides.

“When you get into First Place, you have all these plans and it’s easy to get overwhelmed,” he laughs, shaking his head. ”I didn’t get very far in those first few months.”

Still, Dre met regularly with his First Place team and noticed that he was making progress in developing strong job-search and workplace skills. This revelation sparked his motivation and confidence, and he landed an internship at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. There, he discovered he enjoys work that provides him with opportunities to support people in need and that keeps him engaged with the LGBT community.

Once he identified a career path, Dre and his First Place team were able to get serious about setting short- and long-term goals.

He enrolled in a Mental Health Certification course at Pacific Clinics and, after earning his certificate, began work at Villa Esperanza Services in Pasadena.  As a Skill Instructor there, he works one-on-one with clients who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

While his job keeps him busy, Dre is still making time for volunteer work. He continues to be involved at the Los Angeles LGBT Center as a Youth Ambassador, as well as with Project Q, an organization providing free haircuts to homeless LGBT youth. He was recently an invited guest speaker on a panel at the Getty Center about Project Q’s work and the experiences of their clients.

Dre credits his accomplishments so far to “being surrounded by people who are supportive—my First Place team, people at work, and at the Center.” He hopes newer First Place participants understand the importance of accepting and engaging with the support of First Place, as they strive to turn plans and dreams into real-life progress.


When you make a gift to First Place you help to support more young people like Dre on the path to success! Donate now.

23 March, 2018

Then and Now: Angelica

By |2018-07-16T16:16:21+00:00March 23rd, 2018|Categories: Then and Now|0 Comments

Since our founding in 1998, First Place has served nearly 10,000 young people. As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we are proud to showcase the lasting impact of our work as seen through the stories of program alumni in Then and Now, a special blog series that will run throughout our 20th year.


Fourteen years ago, Angelica felt like she had let herself down.

Due to her parents’ struggles with substance abuse, she’d spent parts of her childhood homeless and her teenage years in San Francisco’s foster care system. Despite having the odds stacked against her, she finished high school on time and enrolled in college at Xavier University in New Orleans, but adjusting to college life was more difficult than she expected. On top of that she was unexpectedly pregnant.

Feeling overwhelmed, she dropped out of college and tried to figure out her next steps.

“Going back to my parents’ home wasn’t an option; I knew I didn’t want to raise my child in a dysfunctional home,” she says. A social worker referred her to First Place and just two months before the birth of her son, she moved into her own apartment. “I loved that place. It was small, but it was mine. For once, things in my life were stable and I knew that things were going to work out.”

With her team’s guidance, Angelica started work as a waitress at Spenger’s Fish Grotto in Berkeley and re-enrolled in school, this time at Berkeley City College. She remembers being very stubborn, but she also remembers that her Youth Advocate, Jose, stood by her and encouraged her to make positive choices for her and her baby.

Where she is now…

After graduating from our program Angelica struggled to pay rent for a time, but she credits First Place for giving her the motivation she needed to find long-term solutions. After a short stint back with her parents, she moved out on her own again and has lived in her West Oakland home for ten years.

Angelica earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Holy Names University and, in addition to her work as Career Development Specialist for the Alameda County Department of Social Services, she has served on several social justice coalitions and political campaigns. She recently applied for her master’s degree in Public Administration at California State University-East Bay. Her son, now 14, and six-year old daughter both attend a local Oakland charter school and are close with their grandparents, who have gotten clean and mended their relationship with Angelica,

“When I went into foster care at 13, I know that I could have easily ended up homeless, dead, or in prison,” she says. “First Place wasn’t just a program where you get an apartment. There was genuine support and encouragement and high expectations for me from my team. I always knew I wanted to play a part in making the system a better place. I feel like my obligation now is to reach out and be an ear and a voice for the kids who are at First Place today.”


Your gift to First Place helps us give more foster youth the skills and support to achieve lasting success like Angelica. Donate now.

16 March, 2018

Policy Update: Supporting SB940

By |2018-06-11T15:36:54+00:00March 16th, 2018|Categories: News|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Foster youth continue to face lower educational outcomes than their non-foster youth peers, particularly when it comes to postsecondary education. By age 26, just 4 percent of former foster youth have earned a Bachelor’s degree, compared to 36 percent of the same-age population of young adults. Multiple studies have shown that receiving financial aid positively impacts grade point average, transfer rates, and undergraduate degree attainment, but currently, just 9 percent of California foster and former foster youth receive a Cal Grant, the state’s largest financial aid program.

This week First Place traveled to Sacramento to show our support for SB 940 in the Senate Education Committee.

Authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), a long-time legislative champion for foster youth, and sponsored by John Burton Advocates for Youth, SB 940 addresses three key barriers to accessing the Cal Grant, as identified by a John Burton Advocates survey of current and former foster youth.

  • Removes the requirement for foster youth to apply for an entitlement Cal Grant within one year of high school graduation, instead allowing them to apply for and receive an entitlement Cal Grant up to age 26.
  • Extends the length of time a foster youth is eligible for the Cal Grant from 4 to 8 years.
  • Extends the deadline for the Cal Grant entitlement application from March 2nd to September 2nd for foster youth applying to attend community college.

Heather Huddleston, a former First Place participant, attended the hearing and offered passionate testimony to the Education Committee:

My name is Heather Huddleston and I attend Laney Community College in Oakland. I am here today to support SB 940.

I am a former foster youth and have been in care since I was 15 years old. The day the state decided to take me away from my family was the day I believe the state took on the responsibility to support me in my future aspirations, which include pursuing higher education.

As we all know, adulthood comes with many price tags, many of which foster youth cannot afford. This can discourage us and keep us locked in a tunnel vision dream—paralyzed and stagnant. SB 940 would ultimately increase the chances for foster youth to obtain degrees that would keep them away from the poverty line and encourage stable living. Thank you for your support.

Heather met with Senator Beall after the hearing, and he thanked her for her moving testimony.

The bill was passed unanimously by the committee members and will next be considered by the Senate Appropriations committee, where it may face opposition for its potential costs. If the bill is successful in the Senate Appropriations committee it would then move on to the full Senate and eventually to the Assembly and Governor for consideration. First Place will continue to offer our strong support as SB 940 moves through the process.

28 February, 2018

Leticia’s Story: Finding Home

By |2018-06-11T15:53:50+00:00February 28th, 2018|Categories: Youth Stories|Tags: |1 Comment

“It feels like more of a home, where I am now. I’m comfortable here,” says Leticia, who joined First Place in 2017.

For Leticia, home and comfort have not always been synonymous. Both of her parents struggled with substance abuse, and Leticia found herself bounced back and forth between them for years. By the time she was 14 she had been separated from her younger sisters, who had entered the foster care system. While her sisters were placed in to long-term kinship care with an aunt and uncle, Leticia continued to live with her father, but their relationship was strained and unstable. It reached a point when she felt she could not stay in the home any longer.

She couldn’t go to her aunt and uncle. As foster care providers, she knew they would be required to report her to social services, who she was sure would return her to her father. At 16 years old, Leticia became a runaway.

Still, she tried to make the best decisions she could in her situation to keep bettering her life. She continued going to school because, she explains, “I didn’t want to be a bad influence for my sisters since we mean a lot to each other.”

Her school eventually discovered Leticia’s status and gave her the opportunity to talk to a social worker. After hearing her story the social worker agreed that Leticia should be in foster care. Once the decision was made, it was only a matter of days before she was in the care of her aunt and uncle and reunited with her sisters.

When she turned 18, Leticia chose to stay in foster care but moved into a transitional housing program in Sacramento to experience more independence. Things started off well, but Leticia was one of the youngest residents of the program, and she found it difficult to get support from staff when she needed it. She also struggled with being so far away from her friends and her sisters.

“I decided to come back to San Jose,” Leticia says, “I lived with my boyfriend for a month before my social worker told me about First Place. I got into the program really quickly, and it’s been great!”

From her first day in First Place, Leticia has exhibited incredible determination to succeed and has stayed focused on her goals, at one point working two jobs. She has also continued to be fully committed to continuing her education. With the help of her First Place team Leticia enrolled in West Valley Community College where she is now taking courses preparing her for a career in law enforcement.

While Leticia is a responsible tenant who takes pride in maintaining her apartment, her feelings of home and comfort aren’t just about a place. They come from having people she can count on. Her First Place team knows that when Leticia has questions or needs help, she’ll reach out for guidance, and Leticia in turn knows that they are there for her. “I love the fact that they trust us and let us be independent,” she says of First Place staff, “but they all come around when you need them.”

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