Shelley Johnson | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Shelley Johnson

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Shelley Johnson is the founder and executive director of Rise Above for Youth, a nonprofit organization that helps youth in foster care transition into society.

When Shelley Johnson started researching the American foster-care system 10 years ago, she was shocked to discover that 500,000 children did not have stable homes.

I was floored, I couldn't believe that in the United States--one of the richest countries in the world--we have so many kids displaced from their homes," Johnson says. "That ignited a passion in me to see what I could do to make a difference."

The Long Beach, Calif., native moved to Clinton in 2008 soon after formed Rise Above for Youth, a nonprofit organization that works to transition youth, ages 14 to 24, out of the foster-care system in Mississippi. Johnson also works as an administrator for Partners to End Homelessness in Jackson. Rise Above for Youth seeks funding opportunities to expand its services.

On Saturday, April 16, Rise Above for Youth hosts a dinner and silent auction to raise money for the group at St. James' Episcopal Church.

Rise Above for Youth advocates on behalf of youth in the foster-care system, and provides resources and referral services , education and housing as the youth transition into society. Johnson says her goal is to someday provide her clients with supervised scattered-site housing like apartments.

"This allows them a little more stability than being in a facility-type setting and having to transition out yet again," she says. "They are involved with so many moves in their lifetime that we really want them in a stable environment as much as possible."

Approximately 60 percent of children in foster care drop out of school, Johnson says. She hopes that her organization can provide youth with more opportunities for higher education.

"Our goal is to get involved as early as possible to encourage them to stay in school and get a diploma, and then give them resources available for college and vocational training," she says.

Johnson, 41, earned her bachelor's degree in human and social services administration from Bellevue University in Bellevue, Wash., in 2005. She lives in Clinton with her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor.

The fundraiser for Rise Above Youth is from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday, April 16, at St. James Episcopal Church (3921 Oak Ridge Drive). The event includes dinner from Sugar Magnolia Catering, a raffle and silent auction. Tickets are $20 and available at the door, or by emailing [e-mail missing].

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