When we launched HuffPost Impact, our new section devoted to service, causes, and giving back, I wrote about my longstanding (and, now, finally realized) desire to put the spotlight -- 24/7 -- on the work of nonprofit groups in a way that enables people to be inspired and immediately take action to address the urgent needs in our society.
To this end, we have decided to regularly feature nonprofit groups that are working in the trenches every day to help turn people's lives around.
To kick things off, I've decided to pick an organization very close to my heart, A Place Called Home.
A Place Called Home is a remarkable place, with a remarkable backstory.
Back in the early 90s, Debrah Constance was a successful real estate agent, earning over $100,000 a year. She also had a serious drinking problem, for which she was eventually hospitalized. Her recovery inspired her to find a new focus for her life: service.
Determined to make her life about something larger than herself, she met with a consultant for nonprofits who stopped her in her tracks by asking: "What do you really want to do with your life?"
The answer came to her in an instant: "All I want to do is open a safe house for children who live around Jefferson High School, in South Central Los Angeles, where they can get off the street, get a healthy snack, watch TV and do their homework."
The next day, she told her boss she was quitting. He gave her six months severance pay and an office. Six months later, she opened A Place Called Home (APCH).
It started with twelve inner city kids in the basement of a church. Within three years, A Place Called Home was serving 400 kids and moved to a new 10,000 square foot facility. It now has a LAUSD school on site and boasts a recording studio, a computer center, and programs in music, art, dance, yoga, tutoring and mentoring.
I met Debrah in 1994, and was immediately swept up by her energy, passion, and commitment to helping "her kids." I eventually joined the organization's advisory board. Volunteering at A Place Called Home has had a profound effect on my life, and on the lives of my daughters.
Spend any time there and you can see that, even over 17 years later, Debrah and a great team -- executive director Jonathan Zeichner, chief operating officer Angela Maldonado and associate director Scott Culbertson -- are people on a mission: providing at-risk kids with a secure place where they can break free from the gangs, drugs, and poverty that surround them.
One of the most inspiring -- and most in need of help -- programs at A Place Called Home is their scholarship program, in association with the David & Linda Shaheen Foundation, which helps kids go to college or a trade school -- kids who often couldn't even dream such a thing was possible.
The kids at A Place Called Home live in some of the poorest and most crime-riddled neighborhoods in the country. Many go to Jefferson High, which has the fifth lowest graduation rate in the entire country. They often have siblings in gangs, parents who are sometimes in jail and sometimes less than supportive, and they are usually the first in their family to have even considered applying to college -- let alone actually go.
To make this dream a reality, A Place Called Home started a SAT prep program. So far, 100 percent of the students who have entered the SAT program have completed it. The students then apply for an A Place Called Home scholarship -- the money goes towards tuition, guidance counseling, and basic needs like clothes to wear to class.
Talk to the folks at A Place Called Home, and the success stories roll out: Gerica, who became interested in filmmaking at APCH and who is now majoring in film at San Jose State; Martha, who got a scholarship and went on to earn her nursing degree; Elijah, who scored so high on the SATs he had his pick of schools -- he ended up choosing a small school in Colorado, the first in his family to go to college.
Last year, A Place Called Home gave out 58 scholarships totaling $250,000. But, given the number of worthy applicants, if they had the money, they could easily quadruple that number.
"There's this misconception," says executive director Jonathan Zeichner, "that kids who grow up in this neighborhood -- which is rife with violence and gangs and poverty and a liquor store on every corner -- don't want to excel. But, as soon as you give them the opportunity and let them know that it's a possibility for them, they're clamoring for it."
To help one of the kids at A Place Called Home excel -- to take the leap from the mean streets of L.A. to a college campus -- we've created a special HuffPost Impact Fund. With $5,000 we can give a worthy student a leg up on a much brighter future.
To donate, click on the widget below. You can also give to A Place Called Home directly from your cellphone -- text HOME to 85944 and $5 will be added to the Fund and charged to your phone bill (all of the money will go to the scholarship fund). Don't forget to confirm your donation by replying YES.
(UPDATE: thanks to your generosity, we have reached our goal of raising $5,000. Since there are so many worthy applicants, we're going to keep the Fund active -- let's see if we can raise enough to send another at-risk kid to college.)
Once the HuffPost Impact Fund goal has been reached, and the A Place Called Home scholarship recipient chosen, we will keep you updated on who is picked and what school the student will be going to, so you can see how your contribution is changing a life.
So please give what you can to A Place Called Home's scholarship program. And please send me your suggestions for other great groups we should be turning the Impact spotlight on.
Contributions made through the above widget go to the Causecast Foundation, the online donation nonprofit partner of The Huffington Post. Causecast does not take any fees from this transaction and guarantees that 100% of your donation, minus the PayPal transaction fee of .044%, will go to A Place Called Home.