Since 2008, Freedom 4 Youth (F4Y) has grown a comprehensive, grassroots, community-based program that empowers youth within and beyond the juvenile justice system. We were co-founded by Billi Jo Starr, Ph.D., and the youth at Los Prietos Boys Camp (LPBC) after creating an officially recognized Toastmasters Charter called Toastmasters Soldiers (TMS) in 2008. TMS was the first chapter of its kind for youth in the juvenile justice system. In 2011, Toastmasters Soldiers evolved into Freedom 4 Youth, a nonprofit organization, where youth participated in a weekly leadership program at LPBC. Youth in the program in 2012 then went on to create the Freedom 4 Youth Advocates, a University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus-based mentorship organization that supports youth involved in the justice system. The Freedom 4 Youth Advocates have a combined total of over 27,443 volunteer hours and counting. There are currently 15 active mentors and a total of 131 alumni mentors. Many alumni have gone on to receive master’s degrees in social work, enter teacher education programs and law schools or join the workforce as counselors, case managers, and law enforcement officers.
Over time, we have developed several individualized and group programs in areas focused on Leadership, Education, Careers, and Community Service. Through our programs (Blueprints 4 Freedom), mentorship, advocacy, and its energized community network, Freedom 4 Youth strives to uplift and empower youth to build safe and compassionate communities. One of our primary goals is to provide people who are involved and impacted by the justice system with enhanced access to community-based resources and opportunities. The justice system has personally impacted nearly all of the organization’s staff and leadership team. Their individual experiences have motivated them to empower youth through direct service programs and services to break the bonds of systemic oppression, while relentlessly advocating for justice system policy reform to work towards collective liberation. We believe in the power of centering the stories of those most impacted to build belonging, hope, love, and systemic change.