When Pastor Michael Martin and members of his congregation at Learning to Live Fellowship began researching ways to support AIDS orphans in Africa, they discovered a need right at home.
“They came across information about emancipated foster youth, and immediately turned their attention toward home,” explained April Warfield, director of the program Martin created in 2005 as a result of that research.
The information that prompted Martin and his group to redirect their efforts included such statistics as: Each year an estimated 20,000 youth “age out” of the foster care system, and nearly one-third will become homeless within a year of leaving; one in five end up incarcerated within the first two years; and only 54 percent compared to 84 percent of non-foster youth complete high school.
Warfield said these stats around emancipated foster youth in the United States, and even closer to home in the city of Inglewood, combined with the fact that African Americans are disproportionately represented in foster care, required immediate action.
That realization resulted in the creation of NextSteps, an after-school program that introduces foster youth to the resources that will help ease their transition into independence.
The nonprofit organization works with youth ages 14 to 18 who are recruited through foster parent associations meetings, the county Department of Children and Family Services, and from local schools.
“Our goal is to create a community that young people can feel a part of, and to promote a sense of camaraderie and connectiveness,” explained Warfield. To do this, they teach the youngsters life skills such as how to interview for a job, what is appropriate dress, and what music to have on voicemail.
“We talk about goal setting, budgeting, transitional housing, how to find an apartment. We make them aware of the department’s transitional house supply,” Warfield said.
The services also include information on college. Additionally, the youngsters receive tutoring from students at Loyola Marymount University [who have donated nearly 200 volunteer hours], and they are paired with an adult mentor.
Once they finish the 32-week program, Warfield said they have computer skills including familiarity with Microsoft Word; have the life skills; and this year for the first time, NextSteps is partnering with a local One-Stop employment center to provide summer jobs for its participants.
Funding for the organization’s $87,000 annual budget comes primarily from private donations and through an annual concert.
This year’s fundraising concert and silent auction will be held March 29 at 5 p.m. at Ocean Christian Fellowship, 343 Coral Circle in El Segundo. Tickets are a minimum of a $10 donation. A freewill offering will also be accepted during the concert.
To get more information or make a donation to NextSteps, call (310) 673-1686, visit www.nextsteps.org or write to 4808 W. 99th St., Inglewood, CA 90301.