April is National Volunteer Month. Throughout the month, HuffPost Impact will be telling stories of volunteers who have made an extraordinary difference through their dedication and innovation. Have you been inspired by a volunteer in your community that you think we should feature? Send us your story at email@example.com.
The HuffPost Impact crew is based out of Santa Monica, CA, so we've become intimately familiar with some of the more prominent causes in the area. Among these: ocean conservation, urban education, political corruption, pollution. One cause that often gets overlooked in the city, but one we've hoped to bring more attention to, is that of youth homelessness.
According to The Los Angeles Youth Network, over 10,000 young people are homeless in L.A. Many of these teenagers and children have left families that abused drugs or alcohol; that were physically and verbally violent; that were sexually abusive. Some of these young people were even abandoned. Most of the homeless youth in America are never reported missing by their families.
It's a problem too often ignored by our nation's philanthropists and newspapers. (A quick Google search of the Los Angeles Times found very few recent articles on the topic of homeless youth - the top result is an article from 1993.) That's why we decided, for our first Volunteer Spotlight of National Volunteer Month, to feature someone who's actively trying to solve this problem, and using an unorthodox approach to do it.
Audrey LaRoque is Assistant Director of StandUp For Kids' Venice outreach program. Several times a week, her and a group of unpaid volunteers walk up and down the boardwalk of Venice Beach, handing out food, socks, underwear, tampons and other necessities to the hundreds of young people who call this area their home. Some of the kids are selling bracelets and necklaces, others products made out of hemp. Most don't want to answer questions. They're afraid of police - in early February, a sweep of the area netted arrests of 50 vagrants, though according to StandUp For Kids, there were no social services offered, as the police claimed.
LaRoque believes that the best way to change this expensive and unhelpful cycle is to integrate these abused young people back into society in a productive way. She's been working with a local restaurant to employ many of these teenagers, and there are plans to open up a cafe staffed entirely by those living on Venice Beach. This initiative, she believes, gives the kids a better chance of being productive and reclaiming the lives they lost in their youth.
To learn more about StandUp For Kids' efforts to help homeless youth, visit standupforkids.org and subscribe to their newsletter. You can find a program in your community and make an immediate contribution of $5 by texting STANDUP to 85944. Drop them a note if you'd like to get involved in one of their outreach programs.
Note: Huffington Post's Impact section is published in collaboration with Causecast, an organization which provides online tools to nonprofits. StandUp For Kids has a profile on Causecast.org, though they are not paying clients and Causecast in no way benefits from any donations given to this organization.