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Alumna starts mentorship program in South LA

Words of wisdom from a counselor set Rosa Johnson on her path of helping others. (Photo/Jacqueline Johnson)

Growing up in South Los Angeles, Rosa Johnson MSW ’12 knows firsthand the importance of having mentors and a network of people who encourage others to excel.

“By the time I graduated high school, I was lost,” said Johnson, who earned her degree from the USC School of Social Work. “I didn’t know my options, I didn’t have access to financial resources and I really didn’t understand my potential.”

It wasn’t until Johnson met a Santa Monica College counselor who took an interest in her and encouraged her to think beyond community college that she began to explore the options at hand.

“She believed in me, and she gave me what I needed to start believing in myself,” Johnson said.

That’s the kind of support Johnson would like to offer other young women.

Accepting the advice of that counselor led her on a path to college at California State University, Los Angeles, and to graduate school at USC. And, just recently, Johnson launched Pearls Academy Inc., a community organization that provides mentorship, skills development and self-esteem training for young, at-risk African-American and Latina women in South Los Angeles.

The academy helps the women understand the importance of education, leadership and resiliency.

Pearls, which stands for “preparing early and refining little sisters,” provides free academic and leadership development opportunities that focus on college preparation, health and fitness, and life skills, including financial literacy, ethics and etiquette.

Through after-school and weekend programs, the women collaborate with mentors to set weekly goals, complete homework and help coordinate workshops, activities and field trips. The women must complete an application, write an essay and obtain parental permission to join the academy, which plans to accept 16 to 20 individuals from the ages 7 to 24 each year.

“I believe that by providing these young ladies access to vital resources, tools for positive development and a support system to keep them focused, we are not only helping ensure their success, but we are feeding the confidence they will need to get out there and let their voices be heard,” Johnson said.

In addition to working with the women accepted into the program, the academy also provides workshops twice a month through the Pearls Empowered Club, which is open to the public and targeted toward parents, guardians and anyone not granted formal admission into the program but who is still interested in participating.

In a bid to acquire funding, Johnson has begun the process of applying for a charitable organization status. So far her primary mode of fundraising has been through individual and community donations, and she has raised enough money to secure a location for the academy and to pay for the training, which is provided by Johnson and a group of mentors.

“Rosa personifies resilience,” said Maryalice Jordan-Marsh associate professor at the School of Social Work. “Rosa stood out in my first-year research class because she saw the challenges of learning research methods as opportunities to build skills so that she could bring her passion for helping young people to fruition.”

Johnson, who focused on the families and children concentration at the school, conceptualized the idea for the academy through various class assignments and projects. She also used a comprehensive human development approach to create her program and activities.

“The USC School of Social Work truly put me in a place where I could positively impact the community I come from,” Johnson said. “If I could impart any words of wisdom to the students currently working on their MSWs, I would say do something that really inspires you because when you do, you really can change the world.”

Alumna starts mentorship program in South LA

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