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.