“Initially, these women are typically closed off emotionally and have low self-esteem,” said Prate. “The fact they have come here says a lot about the circumstances they’ve come from, and the lack of support in their lives.”
But, when these same women leave Richstone one to two years later, Prate says she sees smiles and hope. She sees women securing employment and on their way to completing a college degree.
“I love to build them up, love to help them see things within themselves that they never thought would be possible,” said Prate. “When you look at the women we help a year with transitional living, the numbers are small, but the impact is huge.”
Richstone Family Center, a nonprofit social services agency based in Hawthorne, is best known for its after-school programs and counseling services dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse. But for more than a decade, the center has also committed itself to supporting young women coming out of the foster care system with housing, counseling and resources to help them establish a stable and productive life with its Transitional Living Program.
“These emancipated foster kids are at risk of living on the streets,” said Prate. “Unfortunately, when their foster home families stop receiving funds, these women must fend for themselves – and that is really hard to do as young adults just starting out in the world.”
Richstone’s program offers free housing for seven women, aged between 18 and 24 years. Individuals interested in the program must apply and interview for a spot in one of two Hawthorne-based homes. Prate and team work to assess the candidate’s circumstances, goals and compatibility with the other housemates.
In exchange for the free housing, the young women must enroll in school and/or secure employment. Half of the wages they earn are set aside in a personal savings account, so women leave the program with a small nest egg.
Generally, Richstone staff members receive in excess of 50 applications each year, but can only accommodate seven individuals given the space constraints and funding. Budget for the Transitional Living Program has diminished over the years, and the nonprofit has turned to private donations to keep it alive.
“Similar to all of our Richstone programs, our Transitional Living Program is designed to break a cycle,” said Roger Van Remmen, president and CEO of Richstone. “This is life-altering work and can change an individual’s path. It can make the difference between a young woman struggling to survive on the streets and instead place her on the path to success and making good choices.”
Beyond the Transitional Living Program, Richstone staff members work closely with the Hawthorne School District, offer multiple education, counseling and outreach programs throughout Los Angeles County, and offer a traveling van to meet parents and kids at convenient on-site locations to discuss violence prevention and offer insights into forming a happy, healthy family life.
“We continue to see an increased demand for our services in Hawthorne and the surrounding cities,” said Van Remmen. “We need to be there for our community, and thankfully our agency has a big heart and people committed to making a difference.”
To learn more about the Richstone Family Center or how you can support one of its many programs, visit www.richstonefamily.org.