First Place for Youth
Sep 24, 2020
Since the 2010 launch of our My First Place™ program in Los Angeles, First Place for Youth has provided housing, education and employment support, and comprehensive wrap-around services to hundreds of young people in foster care as they set themselves on a path for self-sufficiency. As we commemorate our tenth anniversary in Los Angeles in a year of uncertainty and challenge, we’re recommitting ourselves to the work of fighting for just and equitable systems that support foster youth’s success and fulfilling our vision of a world where all young people can rise to reach their full potential.
This month, we followed up with two First Place Los Angeles alumni to reflect on their time in our program and share where their path has taken them since.
Raised in “kinship care” by her grandmother, Sierra was placed back in foster care at 16 years old after her grandmother’s death. By 18, she had a daughter of her own and was focused on finding a stable place for them to live. At First Place, she found much more than that.
“I had a wonderful grandmother, but she was older and wasn’t able to teach me a lot of things. I almost thought it was too good to be true that there was a program geared toward teaching the skills foster kids didn’t learn from their parents.” Sierra says of her first impressions of First Place.
With her First Place team by her side, Sierra was able to manage a delicate balancing act of parenting, work, and school, all while building those fundamental skills for the future. She completed her associate’s degree in Culinary Arts, and shortly afterward, she secured a home catering permit to launch CeeCee’s Bakery.
Four years after leaving First Place, Sierra is now a mother of two and has continued working full-time while running her business. But like many others, she found herself slipping into a short-term, paycheck-to-paycheck view of her budget and finances. Tired of the stress it caused, Sierra dedicated herself to careful budgeting and extra work. In just five months, she paid off over $25,000 in debt—including her car loan—even as the pandemic impacted catering orders. As she settles into a new job with the U.S. Postal Service, her increased financial freedom means she can focus on building her savings, growing her business, and investing for her and her children’s futures.
“It’s given me a better outlook on life, knowing that I’m able to give my kids something that I didn’t have,” Sierra says of what she learned in her time at First Place and what she has accomplished since. “I know there is more out there for us.”
Pictured top: Sierra and her children celebrate her debt-free journey; Bottom: miniature cheesecakes made by Sierra. More of her baked goods can be seen on her Instagram account (@Ceecees_bakery)
Danyell says she was at a “critical point” at age 18 when she came to First Place. The oldest of six, she spent a turbulent childhood trying to help take care of her younger siblings as their mother was in and out of jail. Placed in a group home in her teen years, separated from her family, she scraped by to barely graduate high school. The next fall, she enrolled at Los Angeles City College but struggled to keep up with her classes, as she found herself couch surfing with friends for over six months, unable to earn enough money to pay for her own stable housing. She was at a loss for how to provide for herself and uncertain of her options. That’s when she found First Place.
After stabilizing Danyell’s life with access to her safe First Place apartment, her team of Youth Advocate and Education & Employment Specialist helped her learn independent living skills and catch up to her peers in her studies. Finally able to focus on her personal goals, Danyell excelled, and eventually transferred to CSU Dominguez Hills to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
With the skills and confidence she built during her time at First Place, Danyell worked hard to continue her education after she graduated from our program. Within a few years, she achieved her master’s degree in Social Work at USC, with a goal to use her degree for the kind of “hands-on, impactful” support services she experienced with First Place. Her professional path led her to a position as a case manager at the very group home she had once lived in as a teen, allowing her to help foster youth while truly understanding their challenges—and how those challenges can be overcome with support like she received at First Place.
“First Place is such a big part of how I’ve emerged personally and professionally,” Danyell now says. “What First Place created was a sense of independence. They told me ‘Go, be great—but you also always have support here.’”
Pictured: Danyell celebrates her graduation from CSU Dominguez Hills
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