WHO WE ARE
Why are we different?
We start with the conviction that all things are possible for homeless children. Therefore, we provide a holistic approach to solving challenges and address all aspects of life: educational, psychosocial, developmental, financial. We do this because we want to provide the level of care to children experiencing homelessness that we would give to our children.
ENDING THE CYCLE OF HOMELESSNESS, ONE CHILD AT A TIME
WHY WE DO IT
FOR THE KIDS, ALWAYS
Our primary mandate is to serve homeless children. In everything we do, our goal is to honor the dignity and potential of each child. We strive every day to deliver that level of care.
Project Hope Alliance grew out of a schoolteacher’s passion for assisting local homeless children with their education – with her car serving as the first classroom. This personal outreach program soon became an organized undertaking called Project HOPE, which stood for “Homeless Outreach Program in Education.”
Project HOPE grew to become a county-run school designed to help children without permanent homes transition into the mainstream educational system. The First Presbyterian Church of Orange served as a key partner of the program for 20+ years, providing the facilities and many other invaluable operational services to the school.
Now called Project Hope Alliance, the organization remains committed to providing homeless children and youth from kindergarten through age 24 with the tools and opportunities that they need to learn their way to a better tomorrow. In this work, we have spent the last 28 years developing a unique model of care, which includes effective education and housing stability program models that serve the needs of children experiencing homelessness in Orange County.
A 12-year-old girl sitting on a motel bed, surrounded by homework, siblings, and parents, all crammed into one small room.
A 9-year-old boy entering a classroom with his head down, ashamed about not knowing where he will sleep tonight.
These are the images of children in Orange County who struggle with homelessness — the county’s best-kept secret. Although we may not see these “motel kids” in the streets or desperately gripping cardboard signs, they exist in overwhelming abundance.
Under the area’s veil of affluence are the faces of almost 30,000 children who experience homelessness and 120,000 children who live in poverty. They say goodnight from motels, shelters, and couches. They are forced to focus on where they will sleep instead of what they will learn. Tragically, their educations and futures suffer.
Years ago, I was one of these faces. For decades, I silenced my past as an Orange County motel kid, but in the spring of 2013, I shared my story to spark hope and conversation about childhood homelessness.
As a technology entrepreneur, my father experienced unpredictable lapses in income. Although my mother worked as a preschool teacher, keeping a roof over our family of six proved taxing. While there were periods of financial stability, there were also times of despair.
During my junior high and high school years, my three brothers, our parents, and I often packed our lives into 214-square-foot motel rooms. Feelings of shame, lack of privacy, and an economically schizophrenic childhood created an environment where the basic elements of being a kid, like doing homework, were sometimes lost.
Childhood homelessness data from the U.S. Department of Education is shocking. According to the department, 1 in 30 children in the country experience homelessness. Here in Orange County, it’s 1 in 6. California has the largest population of homeless children in America, and Orange County has more homeless students than the average for the state and for neighboring Los Angeles and San Diego counties, according to the California Department of Education.
The effects of youth homelessness are devastating, ranging from chronic emotional stress and physical malnourishment to significant academic gaps and difficulty making friends. In comparison with their peers, children experiencing homelessness are nine times more likely to repeat a grade, four times more likely to drop out of school, and three times more likely to be placed in special education programs, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness.
But there is hope.
At Project Hope Alliance, we start with the kids. Our goal is to make sure that every homeless child in Orange County succeeds academically.
Our impactful approach ends the cycle of generational homelessness by empowering our kids with a unique academic program that is lovingly tailored to their skills and strengths to help them achieve financial independence.
Since 2012, we have ended homelessness for more than 1,500 kids and parents by stabilizing families in their own homes and providing their children with an exceptional education.
Take my story as an example of the boundless power of faith, hope, and determination. Since graduating from the University of California, Irvine, and Whittier Law School, to becoming a partner at a large law firm before age 40, and then leaving the practice of law to proudly serve as Project Hope Alliance’s CEO, I now realize that my story is not about me. I just happen to be the one with a voice right now to communicate that a child’s future should never be determined by their parents’ economic circumstances.
Our team comes from a variety of backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common: a passion for accomplishing PHA’s mission: to end the cycle of homelessness, one child at a time.
Jennifer Friend, J.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Prior to becoming CEO, Jennifer Friend enjoyed a successful career as a partner at a large law firm, representing national and international clients throughout the civil courts of California. While practicing law, she served as President and Secretary of the Project Hope Alliance Board of Directors and was actively engaged in the organization’s expansion and strategic growth. In 2013, Jennifer answered her calling, left her partnership, and became Project Hope Alliance’s full-time CEO. Since then, she has led PHA from a team of two to a mighty team that is focused on eliminating the barriers and filling in the gaps that homelessness causes in the lives of children and youth throughout Orange County.
Her personal experience as a homeless child in Orange County, which inspired the Broadway play Nomad Motel, fuels her deep-rooted passion and commitment to homeless children and youth, while her ability to cast vision, think strategically, and lead and direct broader systemic change uniquely qualify her to serve as Project Hope Alliance’s CEO.
Jennifer holds a J.D. from Whittier Law School and a B.A. in Criminology, Law, and Society from the University of California, Irvine, where she serves as a Trustee.CLOSE
Rachel Cardenas, PSY.D
Director of Behavioral Health
Rachel holds a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology and has worked with youth and young adults for the majority of her career. Prior to joining Project Hope Alliance, Rachel worked as a therapist in schools with youth experiencing social, emotional, and behavioral issues and in inpatient and outpatient facilities with individuals experiencing severe mental health concerns. While working in the school system, Rachel also worked as a consultant for teachers and school staff regarding mental health, crisis intervention, behavioral interventions, and social skill development. Rachel worked at Gordon Psychology Group, where she led their clinical team, developed the training program, and was responsible for training and supervising therapists, case managers, and substance abuse counselors. Rachel specializes in working with individuals who have experienced trauma and has a passion for working with youth. She aims to bring her clinical lens to her work with Project Hope Alliance. Rachel holds a B.A. in Psychology from Dominican University and a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Argosy University.CLOSE
Bonita Vecchio, M.ED.
Manager of Outreach and Partnerships
Bonita Vecchio joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) in January of 2020 as the Program Manager for our case management program. She has extensive experience in leading and managing teams that work with youth who have experienced trauma and have academic and/or developmental needs. Prior to joining PHA, she worked for over seven years in special education classrooms to enrich the learning experience of students with learning disabilities and to train parents on how to communicate and advocate for their children. She also worked for three years as a flight attendant and traveled all over the world, but her true passion lies in cultivating teams and supporting students with additional needs. Her favorite part of her role at PHA is when a student has an “aha” moment during their personal growth conversations. She has volunteered with OC Rescue Mission in Tustin and Released Time in Villa Park. Bonita holds a B.A. in Christian Studies, emphasis in Theology, and an M.A. in Education, Special Education from Grand Canyon University.CLOSE
Lizbeth Loyola, M.A.
Lizbeth joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) in June 2018 as a bilingual Education Coordinator for the organization’s Bright Start program, offering academic support and school navigation for families with K-6 students. In her role, she attends parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings to advocate for students’ needs and educational success. She conducts literacy and math assessments to implement academic interventions to bridge the learning gap; provides social and emotional referrals; and assists families during crisis situations. Prior to joining PHA, Lizbeth served as an Instructional Provider for Santa Ana and Orange Unified School Districts and a Youth Development Professional at Boys & Girls Club of Garden Grove. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from California State University, Fullerton, and recently graduated with her M.P.A. from National University.CLOSE
District Lead Case Manager, Newport-Mesa
Guadalupe joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) as a Case Manager for the Promotor Pathway Program in February 2020. Her background includes working with youth and families. Guadalupe attended California State University, Fullerton, where she studied Broadcast Journalism and Sociology. Being the first to go to college in her family, she understood how important mentoring programs were to students. She went on to work directly with first-generation high-school students by providing academic and mentor support. During her time there she realized there are many layers that involve supporting a student and is proud that Project Hope Alliance assesses and supports the multiple layers it takes to help students succeed. She is looking forward to continuing its mission.CLOSE
Fatiha joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) in January 2017 as an Operations Assistant and has since advanced to Program Coordinator. In her role, she serves as the first point of contact for many families enrolling in PHA’s programs, providing a phenomenal level of support and service to every individual who walks through the organization’s doors. Fatiha also supports the day-to-day functions of all programs, including front office support, resource database development, food pantry maintenance, program screenings, procurement of extracurricular activities for children and youth, and facilitation of financial assistance requests and referrals for families. Prior to joining PHA, she served as a Community Leader Liaison for the City of Irvine. Fatiha holds a B.A. in Business Administration from California State University, Fullerton.CLOSE
Chrissie Lee, M.S.W. PPSC
Since 2013, Chrissie has served as a Case Manager for Project Hope Alliance’s (PHA) core Promotor Pathway Program, providing unsurpassed supportive counseling and advocacy for out-of-school youth. In her role, she conducts comprehensive assessments with young adults experiencing homelessness, develops case plans, provides crisis intervention, links youth to resources, supervises interns, and more. Prior to joining PHA, Chrissie served as a Personal Services Coordinator for the Vietnamese Community of Orange County, and an Educational Case Manager Intern for the Orange County Department of Education, Foster Youth Services. She holds an M.S.W. with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential from the University of Southern California, and a B.A. in Human Development with a minor in Human Resource from California State University, Long Beach.CLOSE
Jocelyn is a first generation college student. She studied Psychology at Humboldt State University. Prior to PHA, Jocelyn worked as a Behavioral Therapist to help improve the lives of youth with developmental disabilities and their families. Jocelyn understands the importance of supporting and advocating for youth so they can overcome any disparities or barriers they may face. Jocelyn is dedicated to being a resource and advocate for at-risk youth. She believes that every child deserves an equal opportunity to have their basic needs met, focus on their education, social and mental well-being.CLOSE
Kimberly joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) in the summer of 2021 as a Case Manager. Kimberly graduated from the University of California, Irvine, where she studied psychology and social development. Prior to PHA, she was an ABA therapist, working with children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Kimberly comes from a single-parent household and relates to a lot of the barriers that PHA parents, children, and families can face when attempting to pursue their education. Kimberly loves being able to help children grow to their highest potential and being able to share that success with them and their families.CLOSE
Victor joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) in the summer of 2021 as a Case Manager. He graduated from Cal State Fullerton with a major in sociology. He is currently attending Azusa Pacific University in hopes of one day becoming an LCSW. Prior to PHA, Victor worked at the Priority Center providing in-home support service to low-income families in Orange County. Working with children from different backgrounds has helped him understand how crucial early intervention is to achieve academic and personal success. He chooses to work with at-risk youth because he believes every child should have an equal opportunity to succeed.CLOSE
Nidia Pravongviengkham M.A
Celso has worked in youth development for ten years, and has spent the last ten years working towards a goal of uplifting his community. This journey has taught him “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?”. Celso has worked alongside a vast array of instrumental people who believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself. With that spark, he has been fortunate enough to work alongside at-promise youth, workforce development, students with disabilities, and substance use prevention. He obtained his B.S. from California State University of Fullerton in Human Services. In his free time, he enjoys spending hours at the gym, eating at In-N-Out, and hanging out with family and friends.CLOSE
Daniel joined Project Hope Alliance in the spring of 2022 as a Case Manager. Daniel graduated from California State University of Fullerton, where he studied psychology. Prior to Project Hope Alliance, he was a Mental Health Unit Assistant at CHOC Children’s Hospital, and a Behavior Interventionist, working with children with autism spectrum disorder. He has worked collaboratively with parents and colleagues to reduce the likelihood of harmful behaviors in children that pose dangers to themselves and/or others, as well as to reinforce safe and productive behaviors. Daniel loves to work with the youth in ways that empower them to overcome any challenges and succeed.CLOSE
Foundation Relations Manager
John Eumurian joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) as Foundation Relations Manager. John is an experienced grant writer with 19 years as both a proposal writer for the for-profit sector and grant writer for the nonprofit sector, understanding the financial workings of both the corporate and nonprofit arenas. He brings local connections and research expertise to the position along with highly skilled grant writing, research, and report writing experience. He has provided services in Orange County, Los Angeles, CA as well as international clients in Croatia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Today, he oversees all aspects of foundational fund development and is tasked with increasing PHA’s family of foundation funders and building a robust foundational system to support program and overall organizational growth.CLOSE
Individual Giving Officer
Graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s College with a Teaching Credential and rich volunteer experience at Saint Joseph’s Center in Venice, California, Chris dedicated ten years to teaching elementary school in both parochial and public settings. Taking a professional pause to raise three children broadened her skills and experience through volunteer leadership and community involvement. Before working with Project Hope Alliance, Chris worked as an advocate and fundraiser for children facing cancer. As the Individual Gifts Officer at Project Hope Alliance, Chris will continue her advocacy for children in need with the intention of disrupting generational homelessness. She welcomes you to join in the mission and vision to end homelessness, one child at a time.CLOSE
Manager of Development and Communication
Jennifer Matsuda joined Project Hope Alliance (PHA) as Manager of Development and Communication. Jennifer is a highly successful relationship builder and professional communicator with 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Jennifer leads communication efforts and delivery with nonprofit boards, donors, and public officials. Jennifer enjoys creating and aligning systems for streamlining effectiveness and fostering teamwork to support PHA’s mission. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology from Notre Dame de Namur University.CLOSE
Annie Weir, J.D
Grants & Development Coordinator
Community Engagement Manager
Vanessa joined PHA in the Fall of 2019 as the Community Engagement Coordinator. In her role, she connects volunteers, donors, and community members to PHA’s mission, events, and service opportunities. Vanessa is an experienced and passionate nonprofit professional focusing her career on volunteer and donor engagement. After graduating from college, Vanessa served 2 terms as an Americorps Volunteer Infrastructure Program fellow at Jewish Family Service in San Diego. Most recently she was the volunteer coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Inland Empire. Vanessa holds a B.A. in Integrated Educational Studies from Chapman University.CLOSE
Manager of Finance & Administration
LYNN HEMANS, Board Chair Vice President, Consumer Intelligence & Strategy
The Hershey Company
WILLIE L. BANKS, JR., PH.D., Director Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs, University of California, Irvine
SEAN BOULTON, Director Principal, Newport Harbor High School
PETE DEUTSCHMAN, Treasurer and Secretary President, The Buddy Group
JOSH FRIEND, Director CEO, Insellerate
JOE LEWIS, III, Vice President University of California, Irvine
APRIL NEGRETE, Director HR Technology Consultant, USI Insurance Services
ERIC RANS, Director Partner, Michelman & Robinson LLP
RAY WESTON, Director Vice President & General Counsel, Taco Bell