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A Place Called Home offers sanctuary for youth

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — When Debrah Constance saw the civil unrest that was part of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, she was thinking about how the youth in South Los Angeles were affected.

She wanted to ensure that they stayed off the streets and had all the basic needs and opportunities that other children had, and that began by providing them with a safe place to go.

So in May 1993, 12 children got together in the basement of a community church where they got to do their homework, hang out with friends, watch television and do the things that normal kids do after school.

It is there that A Place Called Home began.

Since then, the number of kids has grown exponentially. By 1996, A Place Called Home had 400 youth. That same year, it moved to its current location, which now sees more than 300 youth a day (more during the summer months), serves more than 1,000 a year and has a waiting list of more than 900.

What began in a neighborhood church’s basement has evolved into a 25,000-square-foot permanent location complete with a library, an art and dance studio, a garden, an athletic field, a computer lab, a commercial kitchen, and teen and dropout recovery centers.

A Place Called Home is also getting ready to open a continuation high school.

But beyond providing South L.A. youth with an after-school safe haven, A Place Called Home also is bringing accessibility to the historically underserved community.

“South LA is a food desert,” Communications Manager Maria Sosyan said. “It doesn’t have very many grocery stores or nutritional meal options.

“We want to create open, urban garden spaces” where people can walk by their church or police department and pick whatever fresh, organic fruits and vegetables they need. By also providing 400 bags of free groceries a month to families, A Place Called Home is helping mitigate the area’s lack of healthy food accessibility with its Health, Nutrition and Well-being programs.

A Place Called Home’s four other core community services are working to improve the opportunities and accessibilities of South L.A. residents with its Educational Services, Bridge to the Future, Community Engagement and Volunteerism, and Creative Expressions curriculums.

The nonprofit’s 2015-16 annual report found that only 37 percent of the area’s residents have a high school diploma, and an even smaller 3.2 percent have a four-year college degree. By providing tutoring and academic support, SAT and ACT test score preparation, literacy development and more to youth ages 8 to 21, A Place Called Home is increasing these percentages one student at a time by “giving them the opportunities to decide what they want to do in life,” Sosyan said.

Chris Martin is an alumni of the organization. His mother enrolled him in the program when he was 9, back in 1998. After graduating from a magnet school, he was accepted into UC Santa Barbara, and later attended UC Hastings College of the Law.

“APCH taught me about community and nurtured a desire to lift others as I climb,” Martin wrote in the nonprofit’s annual report. He said he owes his drive of being a civil rights lawyer to the care and support he received at the organization.

In his free time, Martin volunteers at APCH as a tutor and mentor.

As for the future of A Place Called Home, Sosyan said it’s only expanding.

“One thing we want to do is get to the point where we don’t have a waiting list,” she said. “We want to increase our space to accommodate everyone.”

“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 newsroom@wavepublication.com.

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