The Teen Project is coming to Venice and will be located at 76 Market Street.
The Teen Project is a volunteer centric organization that has most all of their supplies and food donated in order to reduce costs and increase direct services and funding for the youth that they help. Their highest paid employee earns 40k a year. The Teen Project’s founder was a “system kid” that was homeless herself. She donates at least 25 hours a week to the project and has never taken a dime from the organization.
The Teen Project’s goal is to reunite teens with their families or to facilitate placing them in homes. While many social services choose to keep homeless kids in Venice by housing, feeding them and taking care of them here, The Teen Project will focus on sending them home and to other cities and states depending on their needs and origin to get them back to safe shelter.
From The Teen Project:
The Teen Project, a nonprofit based out of Orange County, provides services to youth up to age 24. The mission and purpose is to assist “at risk youth” to get back to safe shelter and provide them with an education. The Teen Project Founder says, our original focus was on youth exiting foster care without a safe home to return to. In 2007 65% of foster kids were exiting care to homelessness at the rate of 4000 a year in California, 25,000 per year in the US. We were devastated.
Since that time we have discovered youth from all walks of life living on the street. We quickly decided we needed to broaden our scope. The Founder, Lauri Burns, says “A family rift, a divorce, or abuse at home, or substance abuse can cause youth to take life into their own hands. It is our job to bring them back.
Burns was a system youth and a runner herself. Brought up in a middle class Jewish family, by the time she was 13, she began running to escape the abuse of her alcoholic father. By the time she was 15 she was a ward of the court and by 19 she was a street prostitute. At the age of 23, her life was saved after a brutal assault by two gunmen. At that time she was given safe shelter at a sober living and a grant for school. Today Burns is an executive at a Fortune 100 company, a philanthropist, a foster mom to 39 kids and an advocate for at risk youth. Her story has been covered on CNN, CBS, Oprah.com and will be featured in the January issue of a major magazine (can’t say which one yet!).
It was about two years ago that teens began contacting Burns from all over the US. At that time, she realized she could not do it alone. Thus began a collaboration of shelters and sober living homes. Since that time, The Teen Project has created a network of 17,000 national shelter resources.
This past March, Burns was recognized by the LA Business Journal for her TEXT to SHELTER free service. The free service allows any youth in the nation to text the words SHELTER and their ZIP code to the short code 99000 and receive a return text with a local shelter.
Burns is now raising money for a Venice Beach resource center. The center will be staffed with counselors that will provide youth with mentoring, counseling and transportation to help youth return to safety. The center will reach out to safe relatives throughout the US and partnering agencies. It is our job to assess the youth’s needs and work with them to design a new future. “When they have a part in the design, they get very excited. I have spoke to kids living on the streets that dreamt of being a Fashion Designer, a teacher, a doctor… we say, no problem – we will help you get there. One of our youth graduated two weeks ago and is now interning at The House of Harlow, Nicole Richey’s company. We bring their dreams back to life.” A coworker at the Teen Project says, “Burns has a way with these kids, they see her story, knows she is one of them… and they trust her.”
In their experience with street outreach, The Teen Project representative says “Sometimes they don’t want help. They take a bus card or a food card, talk to you for a while and insist they are cool. They always come back. We need them to know we will be there when they do. Just last week, one of the newer employees called Burns after working on a street outreach site. She said, “I found a homeless girl, she is so frail and helpless. I want to take her home, what do you think? Burns who has mothered 39 kids, said “Go for it!” The worker called back upset, “She doesn’t want to go with me, she wants to stay with her boyfriend on the street.” Burns said, “Just tell her okay, but tell her the offer stands – she will come back.” Two days later, the youth called the worker requesting help. She is now living with the worker. Burns thinks outside of the box. As far as she is concerned, if you’re on her team, taking a kid into your home is a mitzvah (blessing). “I get more than I give every time.” The Teen Project has 80 volunteers, many that have sponsored a child in need. Burns’ story, Punished for Purpose is published on Amazon. Consistent to her beliefs, 75% of her book proceeds fund the street outreach.
If you want to help or donate funds to open the Venice Beach Teen Project Resource Center, please contact [email protected]. Burns says, “We are working our team hard to make this happen and have great supporters, but still need more! We planned on launching in November 2011. We are getting close, but I haven’t given up faith yet. Someone out there shares our vision that no child should ever be without love and without a home.”