What’s New

7 June, 2018

CEO Search Underway

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

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 | 2018-06-11T15:25:21+00:00 March 26th, 2018|What’s New|

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 | 2018-06-11T15:26:01+00:00 March 23rd, 2018|Then and Now|

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+00:00 March 16th, 2018|News|

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+00:00 February 28th, 2018|Youth Stories|

“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.”

23 January, 2018

Important Leadership News from Board Chair Jennifer Friedman

By | 2018-06-11T15:55:56+00:00 January 23rd, 2018|News|

After 12 years with First Place for Youth, CEO Sam Cobbs has announced his departure, effective February 19th. We are so thankful for Sam’s years of passionate, dedicated service and success, as First Place has grown to become California’s largest provider of housing and supportive services for transition-age foster youth.

Sam became CEO of First Place in 2005, at a time when the organization was housing 70 young people, with fewer than 20 staff working out of an office in downtown Oakland. Today, First Place is on track to house more than 620 young people, serving more than 1,600 throughout all our programs. More than 125 dedicated and talented staff across six California counties ensure we continue to set high expectations—for ourselves, for the young people we serve, and for our communities.

Our growth has been matched by strong youth outcomes: last year, 83% of all program participants were working or in school and 96% had obtained their high school diploma or GED certificate, or were on track to finish. Our community of supporters makes all of this incredible impact possible. Thank you.

What’s next for First Place? The life-changing work of First Place continues. We’re making great progress on our 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, including having expanded nationally to Boston and Mississippi through our Affiliate Network. Additional growth is planned in California, and as always, our focus will remain on improving outcomes for young people. Our $15 million Growth Campaign, currently at $11 million, is strengthening the organization’s financial sustainability by further diversifying our resources.

The Board of Directors is deeply engaged in charting the next chapter of growth for First Place. We have appointed a Search Committee and will launch a national search for our next CEO. We’ll be sharing the job announcement soon and we’ll ask for your help in identifying candidates whom you know to be dynamic, driven leaders and experts, who would be passionate about leading First Place to even greater heights.

The Board has named our fantastic Chief Regional Officer, Hellen Hong, as Interim CEO. For the last four years, Hellen has overseen large-scale growth of First Place’s Los Angeles programs, including doubling the number of young people served, opening two satellite offices, building strong partnerships with Southern California community organizations, and increasing fundraising for our LA efforts by 100%. Hellen will be supported by our outstanding Leadership Team—a team that’s been together for nearly four years—as well as our highly capable and passionate direct-services staff.

We cannot thank Sam enough for his truly visionary leadership. He will be greatly missed by our staff, our Board, our community partners, and of course, the young people in our programs. We’re sad to say farewell to Sam, but we’re also excited to continue to work closely with him in his new role as the Chief Program Officer at Tipping Point Community.

8 August, 2017

#WhenIWas18: Kurt Warner

By | 2018-06-11T15:59:10+00:00 August 8th, 2017|News, What’s New|

On August 5, 2017, Super Bowl XXXIV champion and MVP Kurt Warner was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. It was a moment that had been anything but certain when Kurt found himself third on the depth chart for much of college, or when he went undrafted, was released from training camp, and took a job stocking shelves at a grocery store. But Kurt grew up with a strong support system who instilled him with the confidence and perseverance that he needed to push through these challenges and continue in pursuit of his goals. Last year, as First Place celebrated our 18th birthday, Kurt spoke with us about his own journey navigating the uncertainties of adulthood, and why he and his wife have chosen to support foster kids in the transition to independence. Here’s what he had to say.

Your circumstances don’t define you. Too often we allow our circumstances and what life looks like right now to define who we are and who we can be. And I think my life’s a perfect example. A lot of people wanted to put me in a box for a long time and say “You can’t. You won’t. It’s not going to happen for you.”

And I’ve come out on the other side and said, “That box does not define me. There’s more to me than what I’m seeing right now and where I am right now.” That’s what this is all about. It’s about kids understanding that their circumstances and where they are right now does not have to define them long-term.

See more videos from Kurt and others on our YouTube Channel
We’re all learning as we go. No one becomes 18 and has all the answers and knows how to do all of those little thing. I think it’s so vital for all of us to have a support system, no matter who that is. Whether that’s in the family, whether that’s a friend, whether that’s somebody outside that’s willing to put their arm around us and give us the time and the willingness to help us move from 18 to that next stage. Because I don’t really care where you grow up or what you have, nobody knows that stuff innately. You need help learning those things and preparing for life, for long-term life. And I can’t imagine doing that, and having to fight through that on your own.

I didn’t feel like an adult, but what I felt was that adulthood was right there.

You go from home to college, and you go “I don’t know how to cook anything.” I can remember in college just trying to figure out how to do laundry — what goes where, what kind of water to use. I had no clue what I was doing.When I went through those moments of struggle, the one blessing that I always had in my life was a support system that I could reach out to. I could call home and say, “Mom, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

And I think that’s where it’s hard for me to put myself in the place of someone who’s in the foster care system or doesn’t have that support system or that family that they can reach out to at those moments. But I remember around the age of 18, I was dating the woman who would become my wife. She had two kids at the time, and we were driving down the interstate in the middle of the winter. We ran out of gas, and I had no money to pay for gas.

I made her and the kids search under all the seats in the car. I had to walk to the gas station and beg the gas station attendant for a couple gallons of gas, promising I’d come back at some point.

And there I was, thinking and dreaming of what life was going to be playing professional football in the NFL, while in the meantime everything else was in shambles. It was one of those shocking moments where what you look like on the outside or what you’re trying to project is nowhere close to what’s going on on the inside.

The one thing that I knew and the constant and the confidence that I had was in sports. And I think a lot of people saw that and said, “Man, this is a confident young man.” Whereas on the inside I was scrambling everywhere else. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I don’t know if sports doesn’t work out, if I have any other talents. I don’t know how to manage life and time.” And all of those different things.

The crazy thing is that I had found sports and had gotten a scholarship to play in college, yet I found myself on the bench. You put all your eggs are in one basket, saying I’m just gonna play four years of college football and then I’m gonna go right into the pros. Then you find yourself sitting on the bench where the dream’s kind of being squashed by everyone else. That’s when you start looking around wondering what am I gonna do? What am I gonna be? How am I gonna handle life if this doesn’t work out? Because I was really not prepared for anything else.

That time is so vital, whether it be having people around you that can give you direction to just get you to try something.

My wife and I have been blessed to be able to work with some kids in the foster care program. We started a mentorship program with six or eight kids that were in that age range of late high school transitioning into what’s next.

I remember my wife and I sitting down so often and thinking how it felt like they were behind everybody else because of bouncing around from one place to another or not being in a position where they could develop the confidence in their skills and what they brought to the table.

And I think what always resonated was each time they came back, the sense of confidence and the sense of direction that they started to gain. And you just wish that you could take all the kids that are in the system and help them see who they really are and what they can be and the gifts that they have. Because I believe that for so long those things have been squashed, and it’s been more just about surviving and going from one day to the next. It hasn’t been about thriving. It hasn’t been about understanding they do have a future, and it’s a bright future, and they can accomplish anything that they want.

Love and support goes so far in helping them to be able to make that transition.

4 August, 2017

Krisha’s Story

By | 2018-06-15T17:58:53+00:00 August 4th, 2017|News, What’s New, Youth Stories|

When Krisha, a First Place for Youth participant from LA, visited Washington, D.C. for the first time in February 2017, she made time to see the sights, but she wasn’t just there as a tourist. She had been asked by our partners at iFoster to speak to staffers of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth. Krisha had a story to tell about the importance of jobs programs for Opportunity Youth—young people who are neither working or in school.

Krisha entered foster care after her grandmother’s death. She struggled to stay motivated in school, eventually dropping out in her sophomore year of high school in favor of trying to find a job. “I did not see the value of continuing school for two years when I needed to work to live,” Krisha explain. Unfortunately, without a high school diploma or work experience, Krisha faced an uphill battle. As she approached the end of her time in foster care, she knew something had to change if she was going to make it on her own. In June of 2015, she joined First Place and moved into her apartment. With a safe, stable place to live, Krisha could focus on figuring how to get back on track in her education and think about what she wanted out of a career.

Her Education and Employment Specialist, Daniel, and Youth Advocate, Mariya, immediately began working with her to plan and set her goals in getting back to school, finding work, and learning the skills that would allow her to live independently. With Daniel’s guidance, Krisha decided to re-enroll in school through Five Keys’ independent study charter school—operating on-site at our Los Angeles office—and joined the iFoster Jobs Program to prepare for work in the grocery industry.

Krisha excelled in iFoster’s program, learning how to write a resume, present herself in interviews, handle conflict, and work as part of a team. After completing this job readiness training, she applied for and was hired in a courtesy clerk position at Ralph’s Supermarkets. It wasn’t glamourous—cleaning bathrooms, corralling carts, and helping customers to their cars—but with the confidence she’d developed through the support of First Place and iFoster, Krisha embraced opportunities to learn new skills and take on new challenges. She developed a good reputation among her supervisors thanks to a positive attitude and a willingness to do more than what was asked of her. Within a year she’d earned five promotions and was on track for an in-store management position.

Krisha’s story was such a testament to the impact of supportive jobs programs for young people like her that, in March, she returned to D.C. This time she met and spoke before members of Congress in support of the Opening Doors for Youth Act and announced that she was officially a manager of the floral department at her store.

While working, Krisha has continued studying at Five Keys to earn the credits she needs to finish high school. With her diploma now within reach, she is looking toward her next goal: enrolling in college. We are so incredibly proud of Krisha’s hard work, her amazing positive attitude in the face of challenges, and her dedication to helping other foster youth find the same opportunities and success that she has.

Watch Krisha’s Testimony

View the full panel video on Facebook

4 May, 2017

Funder Recognition

By | 2018-06-11T16:32:50+00:00 May 4th, 2017|News|

First Place for Youth offers our thanks to the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. The Foundation’s two-year, $70,000 grant supports of our Steps to Success education and employment program. Through this grant, we will be able to expand our reach in Los Angeles and more provide foster youth with critical support services that help them on the path to independence and success.

Established in 1954, the Foundation manages more than $1 billion of assets entrusted to it by over 1,300 families and partners with donors to shape meaningful philanthropic strategies, magnify the impact of giving, and build enduring charitable legacies. Over the past 25 years, The Foundation has distributed over $1 billion in grants to thousands of nonprofits across a diverse spectrum.

16 March, 2017

A Message from Sam: Sharing Important News with You

By | 2018-06-15T17:21:24+00:00 March 16th, 2017|News, What’s New|

To our supporters and friends,

It is with mixed emotions that I am writing to let you know our Co-Founder and Vice President of Policy, Deanne Pearn, will be moving on from First Place for Youth at the end of this month, to be Executive Director of Contra Costa Interfaith Housing. It is hard to express just how much First Place will miss Deanne. We wish her all the best in her new role, where she will lead CCIH’s efforts in providing critical support to vulnerable populations in Contra Costa County.

Back in 1998, Deanne and Amy Lemley saw a gap in the safety net for foster youth and co-founded First Place to bridge that gap. Their original idea has grown from serving five youth in Oakland that first year to now serving 2,000 throughout California. Deanne’s leadership and advocacy have grown First Place into a nationally-recognized leader in our field, fueled by her fierce compassion and dedication to our community’s at-risk young people.

Deanne has worn so many hats at First Place, from designing our original program, to leading the organization’s fundraising activities, to building out a Policy Department that advocates on behalf of foster youth at federal, state, and local levels of government. We cannot thank Deanne enough for helping to get First Place to where we are today, and we look forward to supporting her efforts on behalf of vulnerable populations in Contra Costa.

The staff and youth of First Place are deeply grateful that Deanne and Amy had the understanding, as graduate students, that direct services alone are not enough to change the trajectory for foster youth in the United States. They were at the forefront of connecting direct services with systems change in order to end the poverty that affects so many foster youth. Because of Deanne, this connection has been firmly implanted into the organization’s DNA. We will continue to advance our policy agenda, as part of eliminating disparities between foster youth and their non-foster peers—it just won’t be quite as much fun without Deanne.

Please reach out if you have questions about this transition, and thank you as always for being on our team.