MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Young people who find themselves in need of help, are welcome at Sanctuary of Hope.
The youth development organization is dedicated to serving transition-age youth, ages 16-25. The age of 25 is considered a transitional youth range when most have transitioned into adulthood.
The organization’s mission, which includes building self-reliance, is to provide a caring and multi-cultural approach to services that will help young adults become self-sufficient and lead prosperous lives. Services include general counseling and therapy, life coaching, mentoring, housing resources, education support, emergency services and financial assistance for under-resourced youth who are low-income, homeless, foster care, probation and/or at-promise.
Janet Kelly, 47, is the founder and executive director of the organization, which she started 10 years ago.
“I started this for my faith aspect,” Kelly said. “It was a leap of faith. There was a lot of work to do to open. I wanted a board of directors who represented South L.A. and had adopted or fostered someone in the foster care system. I had to talk to a lot of young people to understand exactly what they needed. Our programming and intake and handbooks were all written by former foster youth.”
Kelly’s desire to help came honestly. Before launching Sanctuary of Hope, she worked for People Assisting the Homeless.
During her time there, she found she had a passion for keeping families together and for helping children.
“I found out when kids enter into being homeless, it wasn’t really accommodating them,” said Kelly, a married mother of four. “I found out that they can get sucked into survival sex, marriages and domestic violence. Due to the sheer volume of the overall homeless system, it was hard to serve our services specific to youth populations.”
Kelly said when she founded Sanctuary of Hope, she wanted to do something specific to her community in South L.A.
“I wanted to do that because that’s where I live, work and worship,” she said. “Our Black and brown youth often don’t get recognized and our system is not culturally appropriate.”
Kelly’s “hope” was that her organization could somehow fill a void.
“It was to create a safety net for 16-25 year olds who find themselves in a crisis situation,” said Kelly, a native of Stockton, California. “It’s for low-income youth and young adults who find themselves suddenly homeless.”
Kelly said Sanctuary of Hope helps to send young people to college, helps with online support and books, provides education, scholarships, tuition, support, mentorship and housing to ensure the youth and young adults can be on the path to self-sufficiency.
“We get them ‘document ready,’” Kelly said. “That’s critical for them to move on. Being document ready is important for those who are going through the process of getting housing, affordable housing and Section 8 housing. Before you get that voucher for Section 8, you have to be document ready. You need an ID, a Social Security number, a birth certificate, an employment record and a bank statement. We also help with their emotional well-being. We have therapy services available to young adult populations as well.”
Kelly said what makes Sanctuary of Hope different from other organizations is its multi-service approach.
“Even if they may not partake in anything else — maybe they are coming for shoes, clothes or a food card,” she said. “We are one of the very few organizations that do that. We have an education coach for youth who are looking to go to college or anything college-related. If they are in LAUSD, we have a liaison who will help kids who are homeless.”
If needed, Kelly said Sanctuary of Hope will house young people who find themselves homeless in interim bridge housing. Depending on what kind of housing an individual receives, they can be there from 90 days to two years.
“Our goal is to transition them into more stable housing,” Kelly said.
Youth, young adults, and the homeless crisis is a “village” crisis, according to Kelly. She believes everyone has the ability to help.
“It’s everybody’s issue, but homelessness starts at your front door,” she said. “When you see a young person struggling, don’t make an assumption. The question should be — ‘How can I help you?’ That sets a strong path to self-sufficiency. They just want a caring adult in their life. Help them see their future. We spend a lot of time talking down to young people. Be a good listener.”
Sanctuary of Hope encourages the community’s part in making the organization a success.
“Everyone has the ability to help,” Kelly said. “We’re always looking for help. To help Sanctuary of Hope, contribute to our cause. We’re always in constant need of food cards like Subway, and Chipotle. That’s a huge asset to us. We serve young parents and families. With onesies, diapers, socks and booties. All of that makes a world of difference.
“If you’re a landlord, we have youth who have subsidies. Youth need a place to stay. There are so many ways for everyone to help.”
This year the organization has had to use a good portion of its $2.4 million annual budget on personal protection equipment. When COVID-19 hit, the organization was forced to get all of the necessary equipment to protect themselves as well as the young people coming for help.
“We’re spending a lot of money so that we can comply with all the guidelines,” Kelly said. “It cuts into the other things we need.”
There are Sanctuary of Hope facilities in Inglewood, Hawthorne, Carson, Gardena, Lawndale and in the South Bay, which opened three years ago.
Kelly emphasizes that Sanctuary of Hope is open to everyone, but it’s disproportionately made up of mostly Black and brown youth.
“That’s because of the educational system,” Kelly said. “There’s no parity. That plays a crucial role, as does unemployment, health care, access to wealth — all of these play that driving critical role of people still finding themselves in crisis. Today, all entry-level jobs are occupied by seniors and adults. We want youth and young adults to have access to training that will lead people to a living wage job.”
Although Kelly’s organization is designed to transform lives, she admits that since starting the organization she, too, has made a transformation.
“I learned that this is a passion,” Kelly said. “I learned about the tenacity of my community and I learned the youth will always be present. When you are working with young people you have to be in the work for the long haul. It’s not a ‘meet and greet’ interaction. We have community anchors. It takes a whole village to support and rear our young people. I learned I can’t exist without the community. I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s always surprising me.”
Kelly believes her organization is making a difference.
“It feels promising,” she said. “We’re helping them facilitate the goals they set for themselves. We’ve gone to many high school and college graduations, and weddings. We get to see the promise and potential. It’s promising to see their resilience and fortitude to overcome.”
According to Kelly, in some ways, society has failed its youth.
“In certain aspects we have,” she said. “What I think is generationally we have taken what we have experienced and forced our experiences on young people without listening to what this generation is going through. That disconnect has caused tension. It’s ever-present even in our language. Don’t point fingers and don’t pass judgment.”
November is National Homeless Youth Awareness Month and Sanctuary of Hope has planned a host of activities.
At 10 a.m. Nov. 5, Sanctuary of Hope will host an online homeless youth kick-off launch breakfast party. Each week, thereafter, the organization will conduct virtual open houses for its Adams District and Hawthorne Boulevard locations. A panel on parenting youth experiencing homelessness is set at 10 a.m. Nov. 30. It will be live-streamed on the organization’s website.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.