Today we’d like to introduce you to Demontea Thompson.
Demontea, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Tray and I were placed in foster care when we were babies. Our parents struggled with substance abuse and were not able to support us. Hence, my late great uncle and aunt took us into their home. We come from a huge family: ten siblings. As Compton natives, we take pride in our village.
Upon emancipating from foster care at 18, we learned very quickly what skills we lacked that our peers leveraged for success. Although our mentors kept us on track when our great uncle passed away before we graduated, we had a very hard time finding a village like we had in Compton. We knew we could not leave it up to the institutions to create the village we so desperately needed. We created Twinspire as a nexus of support for students with foster care or low-income backgrounds. In just a year, we solidified a spot among respected child welfare leaders to educate youth on financial management and career and college success.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Tray is the financial wiz; he works in financial services. I am the educator and currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Urban Schooling at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Systems. I (Tae) serve as the executive director of Twinspire.
None of what we’ve accomplished has come easily. I think back to our time in Compton. We had a Kool-Aid stand. We went door to door with our merchandise, selling drinks, then ice cream, candy, and pickles. We would have almost had a store if our uncle didn’t have us cutting yards on the side. That same entrepreneurial spirit stuck with us after college. We knew that we wanted to give back and provide resources to improve our community, but we did not know how. We started Twinspire in 2014 but were overwhelmed by the passing of our uncle and other commitments, so we did not officially finish the business plan and incorporate it.
I must say that our village at California State University, Northridge always came through. After years of talking about what we wanted to do, our vision became clear, and we received encouragement from our mentors and supporters to pick up our baton. They knew we were already writing books about our experiences, presenting keynotes, and volunteering for other organizations. They reassured us that we were needed in this space and that so many youth who come from similar backgrounds could benefit from our programs.
In the nonprofit world, fundraising is key. This has been a challenge for us due to not having a track record. After focusing on our board of directors, or “evolutionary governance” as we call it, we tapped our networks for financial and legal support.
Please tell us about Twinspire.
Twinspire’s mission is to advocate, empower, and educate young adults from foster care and economically disadvantaged backgrounds by equipping them with financial literacy tools, life skills, and educational resources.
We specialize in providing modules, webinars, and workshops to youth in and around LA County. We partner with local organizations, schools, colleges, and the Department of Children’s Services to expand our reach. Youth should not be in siloed programs, but part of a village, interacting with communities that are all here to foster their success. We do not navigate from a “nonprofit Hunger Games” philosophy. We know there are enough generous and concerned members of our community who believe in our work. Foster youth college graduation rates should not be at a scant 3%, nor should foster care function as a pipeline to jails and homelessness.
We have more than 400,000 youth in foster care nationally, and Los Angeles County has the largest foster care system in the world. There is more that everyone could do to support this cause from anywhere in the country. Donate, mentor, adopt, support, and educate yourself on relevant and culturally responsive literature.
At Twinspire, our method is simple. We provide youth with supportive networks and a learning environment that facilitates their success with the ultimate goal of creating positive multigenerational change.
We employ youth who’ve been through our programs to facilitate workshops and webinars for new participants. We acknowledge that youth who have unique experiences in institutions and the streets have an expertise that is often overlooked or exploited. It is our pleasure to help them use it for the benefit of themselves and others around them while gaining valuable job experience and living wages.
We are one of the few nonprofits that is directed, led by, and for people who have foster youth and low-income backgrounds. As Black leaders in the child welfare space, we are changing narratives and spreading hope.
Our proudest moment was when our mentees Kalonji and Jaloni, twin Black male foster youth, surprised us on the Kelly Clarkson Show and shared with the world how much of an impact our programs and mentorship had on their lives. These resilient young men are committed to this work, and we are fortunate to have them on our team.
What is “success” or “successful” to you?
We define success as the ability to see an opportunity in every circumstance. Most foster youth have this mindset; they may fall, but they get right back up and try it again with a new perspective. Twinspire serves youth in high schools and colleges. We do not have an age requirement.
We are successful because we operate from the lens that we don’t have all of the answers. We share the knowledge that we have with our community and allow our community to create and disseminate new knowledge.
The majority of our programs are funded by generous donations from our community and grantors. However, we do accept donations for administrative expenses and resources for participants.
- Curriculum Booklets, $20/participant
- Raised From Scratch Book, $10/participant
- Computer or tablet for youth, $200 – $500/participant
- Twinspire polos, $15/participant
- Software, $35/participant
- Website: twinspire.org
- Phone: 1(805)622-0226
- Email: Twinspirers@gmail.com
- Instagram: @twinspire_
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TwInspire
- Twitter: Inspire_A_Life