January is a time for new beginnings.

January is a time for new beginnings.

With the New Year comes new goals and fresh outlooks. In the Legislature, January brings new legislation and continued progress on issues from previous years. As we go into 2020, I remain committed to improving the lives of people in Southeast L.A. and throughout California.

This month, I’m shining a spotlight on people and organizations in our community that work to provide new beginnings for others. These groups serve people who often feel marginalized and forgotten by society. Despite efforts to change their lives, many struggle to overcome obstacles that hold them back.

Although the past shapes who we are, we are so much more than our previous experiences. These groups support people through their journey of redefining themselves. They give people real hope for a brighter future; one with opportunities and prosperity. 

On that note, I want to wish you all a Happy New Year filled with success and hope for the future.

A Sense of Home for Hundreds of Former Foster Youth

A Sense of Home for Hundreds of Former Foster Youth

A house is just a shelter, but a home is a place of love, a place that’s distinctively yours. When foster youth age out of the system, many become homeless, and those who do obtain housing often can’t afford to make it a home. That’s why A Sense of Home, a nonprofit based in Hawthorne, brings together volunteers to furnish homes for former foster youth.

Since its founding in 2014, A Sense of Home has made more than 500 homes from youth throughout L.A. County, including Long Beach and Lakewood. A true community effort, A Sense of Home receives furniture from corporate partners and through weekly furniture pick-ups across the county. Items installed in each home range from beds to refrigerators to bath towels.

Both recipients and volunteers describe the transformation as a life-changing experience. “It’s good to know that there’s good people in the world because I haven’t come across many in my life,” said one young mom after seeing her new home. Because many women aging out of the foster care system have children of their own, A Sense of Home also provides cribs, diapers, bedding and other accommodations for young families.

With just 58% of foster youth graduating from high school and 3% from college, they face numerous barriers in becoming financially stable. One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of community. “Aging out of the foster system, we’re kind of really just left to figure it out on our own,” explained one young woman.

By bringing the community together in an act of kindness, A Sense of Home gives former foster youth a sense of belonging and support. “I’m so surprised… It’s really beautiful,” said Long Beach resident LaMonica to volunteers. Many recipients eventually become volunteers, paying the generosity forward.

Homeboy Industries Changes Lives

Homeboy Industries Changes Lives

Going to school in Lakewood, most girls at Saint Joseph High School had no understanding of gang members, until Father Gregory Boyle showed up from Homeboy Industries, which he founded 30 years ago.

“He brought three homies with him,” recalled Margaret Hernández, an English teacher at Saint Joseph. “All the girls were just hypnotized.”

One of the homeboys, José, was abandoned by his family as a child and had to survive on his own. “So of course he joined a gang.” Hernández’s students were in tears.

Father Boyle established Homeboy to help former gang members and ex-felons by providing jobs, therapy, tattoo removal, and substance abuse support.

When students at Saint Joseph learned about it, 180 of them signed up immediately for a new club supporting the program. This year, Saint Joseph’s team was among the biggest groups at Homeboy’s 5K run/walk.

This year, the Jester Homegirls - named for the high school’s mascot - has 80 members. In December, they were busy collecting toys and gifts for children of the men and women at Homeboy.

Saint Joseph students visit Homeboy to see up close what their efforts mean. “It’s my favorite day of the whole school year,” Hernández said. Jester Homegirls meet ex-gang members they bought textbooks for, or those they helped to get a laptop so education and advancement was possible.

“Every minute I dedicate to the club is made worth it when I hear the stories of those whose lives I've changed,” said Kya Johnson, a junior. “(It) is an unforgettable feeling that I'll take with me far beyond my high school years."

For Homeboy Industries workers and trainees, it’s about second chances. For Hernández and her students, it’s about giving and loving in support of Father Boyle’s legendary program.

“He’s a rock star,” Hernández said.

Long Beach Rescue Mission: Shelter and Services for 50 Years

Long Beach Rescue Mission: Shelter and Services for 50 Years

It started in an old shoe store. A Long Beach couple, Janet and Wayne Teuerle, converted the store into a safe haven for the homeless. With help from the community, the Teuerles served 27 meals and housed 16 people on opening day. Their efforts evolved into the Long Beach Rescue Mission, which has provided shelter and services to those in need for nearly 50 years.

Having served thousands, the Long Beach Rescue Mission gives shelter, food, clothing, spiritual guidance, and counseling to at-risk individuals. The organization also offers specialized counseling and resources to those escaping domestic violence or struggling with addiction.

A program manager at the Mission, Shawn Purdy, has experienced the impact of these programs firsthand. Purdy first came to the Mission seeking help for an addiction. “They suggested that I go back to school,” he said. “What the Mission has provided to me, I can pay it forward.”

Several staff members at the Mission have gone through its programs, enabling clients to receive guidance from those who truly understand their struggles. “I see people every day struggling with addiction and mental health,” said Purdy. “It’s about building trust.” Staff like Purdy help establish this trust in a safe and compassionate environment.

The staff at Long Beach Rescue Mission understand that there are many reasons people become homeless or addicted. Therefore, they provide wraparound services, including grief counseling, relapse prevention, and a learning center. The Mission also runs children’s programs and a thrift store that funds Mission initiatives.

Regardless of what brings people to the Long Beach Rescue Mission, they’re met with open arms and a community to lean on. The Mission is much more than a shelter. It’s recourse to finding purpose and direction. It gives people hope and supports them on the path to changing their lives for the better.

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