First Place was founded in 1998 by Amy Lemley and Deanne Pearn, graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley-Goldman School of Public Policy. Amy and Deanne were struck by the poverty and homelessness that affects so many young people who grow up in foster care and were inspired to help break the cycle of poverty for these vulnerable youth. With a small grant in hand, they began First Place with four former foster kids—providing critical housing and support around education, employment and financial literacy. First Place was the first organization in Northern California dedicated exclusively to addressing the lack of affordable housing and resources for former foster kids and has grown to become a nationally-recognized model operating in six California counties:
• Alameda (beginning in 1998)
• San Francisco (2002)
• Contra Costa (2005)
• Solano (2007)
• Los Angeles (2010)
• Santa Clara (2015)
Last year, First Place served 1,632 current and former foster kids throughout the state.
Since our founding, First Place has taken a “double bottom line” approach to our work: (1) Provide results-driven direct service to young people who need our help; and (2) Change public policies that will improve the lives of as many foster kids as possible. The organization has helped to fundamentally reshape the landscape for foster kids in California, starting with the creation of the state housing program (known as THP-Plus) in 2001. In 2007, First Place’s Chief Executive Officer, Sam Cobbs, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee about the plight of transition-age foster youth and promising practices for helping them become self-sufficient adults. We also advocated for the Federal passage of the Fostering Connections to Success Act (signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008), and the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010). Now implemented in California, this legislation allows foster kids to remain in foster care until their 21st birthday as long as they are working or enrolled in school.
First Place believes that our direct service work drives our advocacy efforts, and that our advocacy can provide a context in which our direct services can succeed. The implementation of the Fostering Connections to Success Act is changing the landscape for providers throughout the country. As a result, it is critical that First Place continue to show that strong, outcome-driven programs can succeed in this new environment and that by scaling our program model, we can fundamentally change the way the child welfare system serves young adults who have grown up in foster care. First Place can be a catalyst in building the evidence to support this drive; by doing so, we increase awareness about the policies and practices that will ultimately benefit the entire field and foster youth across the nation.
First Place and our leadership team have received numerous awards and honors for our innovative programs and leadership in the field, including:
• National Association of Counties Achievement Award/Children and Youth (Los Angeles County 2013).
• Social Impact Exchange selection to Top 100 Nonprofits (2012)
• National Alliance to End Homeless recognition as Best Practice (2011)
• Annie E. Casey Foundation Children and Family Fellowship (Sam Cobbs, 2010)
• James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (Sam Cobbs, 2010)
• American Red Cross Community Award (2010)
• Bank of America Neighborhood Builders Award (2007)
• Tipping Point Community Award (2007) – less