Friends in Deed

Founded in 1999 by Father Peter Banks, Friends of St. Lawrence-Watts Youth Center strives to break the cruel cycle of poverty and improve quality of life in the inner city. Father Banks recognized that education is not only the key to ending poverty, but also to quelling the lure of gangs to our vulnerable youth.

Founded in 1999 by Father Peter Banks, Friends of St. Lawrence-Watts Youth Center strives to break the cruel cycle of poverty and improve quality of life in the inner city. Father Banks recognized that education is not only the key to ending poverty, but also to quelling the lure of gangs to our vulnerable youth.

Through programs that encourage academic achievement, community involvement, and heightened awareness of the opportunities available both within and outside of Watts, Friends has been able to successfully empower families and enrich the lives of hundreds of local youth.

Friends is a collaboration of St. Lawrence of Brindisi in Los Angeles and American Martyrs in Manhattan Beach. As sister parishes, they have worked together for over 40 years to fulfill the gospel of Matthew 25, volunteering and giving back to their community. The Friends’ board is made up of members of both churches.
Friends offers a variety of programs to Watts residents and its surrounding neighbors. Programs include: counseling, academic scholarships, career guidance, mentoring and tutoring, health screening, legal assistance, free tax preparation, and numerous other outreach programs. One of Friends’ most vital programs is its English as a Second Language Course, which is offered to 20 adult students per year. The ELS program has successfully run for 10 years helping hundreds of adults to better thrive in their community. American Martyrs also provides the majority of Friends’ ESL teachers.

Friends has provided over $250,000 in academic scholarships to promising local youth. These scholarships help them to attain a higher quality education while in a safer environment. In a safer school, these promising youth may thrive, increasing their opportunities to attend college. In 2004, each of the seven members of Friends’ first graduating class of scholarship recipients went on to attend a four-year university. Currently Friends funds 60 grade school and high school academic scholarships.
“We are here to offer them support and we are seeing real success stories in the neighborhood,” says Linda Northup, Director at Friends. Linda originally created the ESL system as an active member of American Martyrs prior to the formation of Friends. When the two parishes joined forces, she became a board member and eventually went on to become its Director. Northup remains a parishioner at American Martyrs today.

She shares the example of a sixth grade student at a local middle school who was being attacked inside the school by gangs of boys. “Many boys in his situation join gangs for protection and security,” she notes. “He quit going to school because he was afraid and his parents were afraid too.” After the program offered him a scholarship to St. Lawrence School his life turned around. “He is now one of our scholarship kids attending Verbum Dei High School,” she says. “His GPA is 3.6 and he’s on track for college.”
In addition, Friends has funded cultural outings for over 400 students. It has donated over 200 computers plus books and other resource materials, provided free tax preparation for over 100 families, and advocated for others with legal and social issues. It also offers leadership training at Camp Stevens in Julian for 25 teens each year. This exceptional program allows teens that have never been outside the city the chance to spend a weekend in the mountains enjoying the outdoors while playing team-building games and building their self-confidence.

The cornerstone of Friends’ programs is its Literacy Center. Each year the center hires and trains 25 area teenage tutors to teach reading skills to 80 first through fifth grade children. Since its inception in 2001, the program has enjoyed impressive results, with most participants achieving grade level reading. Many actually go on to exceed average grade levels. In fact, half of the top ten second grade readers and a third of the top ten third grade readers were Literacy students in the prior year.

Shaped by humanitarian ideals and spiritual values, Friends’ objectives are guided by the Gospel message of faith, hope, and love. Yet the organization is dedicated to assisting all youth regardless of religion or ethnicity. Its supporters include a diverse group of leaders and community members from all ethnic background and religious affiliations. Together they pull their resources and share their talents to promote their mutual cause. The organization has nearly 100 volunteers from all over Los Angeles County that participate in all levels of the various programs Friends’ sponsors. Volunteers include parents, teachers, retirees, attorneys, accountants, interpreters, adults and teenagers. Without this amazing and dedicated group of volunteers, Friends would not be able to provide the vital services the community so critically needs.

Friends receives 77% of its donations from individuals and families. It does not receive any funding from government grants. Friends’ primary fundraiser is its annual Mardi Gras benefit, hosted at American Martyrs, which raises over $100,000 each year. Remaining funds are generated through mailings, grant writing and word of mouth. “The funds our donors invest are life saving,” says Linda. Friends aspires to someday expand the Literacy Center that currently only accommodates 80 students. The need for literacy training in the community far exceeds the center’s capacity, so the team at Friends would someday like to see the center move to a larger space, expand the literacy program, and serve more students in need.

Friends of St. Lawrence-Watts Youth Center is located at 10122 Compton Avenue in Los Angeles. Donations can be made online at Interested donors and volunteers may also call 310-489-1276 or email [email protected].

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