Labor of Love: Nonprofit Aims to Empower Children in Foster Care

By Michele T. Johnson
November 2009

Linda Turner takes motherhood very seriously. Like many women, you can tell this by the way she talks about her three children and two grandchildren.

But Turner doesn’t self-contain the love for her blood relatives.  She believes that every child deserves no less love than what she and her husband were able to provide their family. And as the founder and executive director of L.A.S.T. Transition House, a non-profit organization in Solano County, Calif., that’s just what she gives.

In Solano County, there are 701 foster care youths, with nearly 14 percent of them being between 16 and 18 years old. “I know no child should be without,” Turner says with fierce passion for her mission. “The need that I see when I look into these kids’ eyes can be overcome by simply giving them a hug.”

L.A.S.T. stands for learning, attitude, stability and triumph, and has the goal of empowering young adults age 18 to 24 years old who experience the foster care system. Turner, who started the organization in 2005, believes that the first three values in the acronym do ultimately lead to triumph. The mission of L.A.S.T. is to provide a transition for the children in the foster care system who are often sprung out harshly into society without tools or foundation to create a successful and productive life. L.A.S.T. is geared toward youths who have been emancipated from the foster care system in the past four months or will leave the system in the next 18 months.

Turner’s desire to work with youth also includes serving as a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a volunteer organization that appoints citizens to be officers of the court for abused and neglected children. Typically, CASA volunteers work with one child at a time until they are placed in a safe home, but Turner has stayed involved in the lives of each of the four children she’s been appointed to support.

L.A.S.T. Transition House follows Turner’s same CASA belief that one cannot step into a child’s life briefly and move on. “[This program] does so much for them, it motivates their whole life,” Turner says.

The youths attend classes and workshops that cover the real life, grown-up issues of self-esteem, managing finances, running a household and all the other encounters that children usually learn from their parents before setting off into the world as adults.

Turner says her youths learn the gamut from opening a checking account to feeding themselves for a week on $20 to figuring out how to get into college. Workshops also address the topics of diversity, awareness of HIV/AIDS, issues of sexual orientation and job development. “I just try to give these youths the real thing – lessons on life.”

The funding for the organization comes from private donations, which allow Turner to have community support and involvement. MetLife, Union Bank of California and Farmers Insurance are among the companies that have worked with L.A.S.T.

The ultimate goal of the program is to become a haven where the lessons taught can be better implanted in a safe environment – where the youths have their own place while receiving guidance on how to better empower themselves.

The bottom line for Turner is helping youths in the foster care system feel loved so that they can live happily and responsibly. “If you teach [children] to fish, they’re not going to go hungry,” Turner says.

Michelle T. Johnson is an author, mediator and diversity consultant. She lives in Kansas City, Mo.