On a Mission: Building a brighter future for South LA youth

A group of kids traveled with On a Mission to Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of On a Mission)

Sometimes, all it takes is one person on a mission to get an idea rolling. Meet Edwin Henderson, a South LA-raised athlete who has focused his energy on building his idea: creating programs that help youth aspire to a better life.

“I grew up in this area. I went to school here. I saw the problems. I saw the need,” says Henderson, founder of On a Mission. “After college, I came back to work in social service jobs. It was important for me to try to make a difference.”

Henderson won a football scholarship to attend UC Berkeley, but left the school because he felt there was too much emphasis on his athletic abilities and not enough encouragement for him to excel academically. He returned to Los Angeles, graduating with a B.A. degree in Psychology from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

“It was the best decision I made. I felt I had much more personalized attention from the professors. I was really able to focus on my studies,” he says.

On a Mission took a group of kids deep-sea fishing. For some, it was the first time ever they had experienced fishing. (Courtesy of On a Mission)

After graduating, Henderson worked with the homeless on Skid Row as a case manager at the Weingart Center. He also worked with parolees, families in need and mental health patients.

“I saw many men in their 50’s and 60’s get out of prison, not know what to do with their lives, use drugs again and go back to prison,” recalls Henderson. “I knew that if I wanted to make a difference, I needed to work with young kids.”

He founded On a Mission (O.A.M) in December 2003, but unable to secure sufficient grants to keep his initial programs going, had to put his youth programs on hold. He took a job as a manager at American Airlines, where he spent five years. He even worked at FedEx as a forklift driver.

“While at FedEx, I started working with the Hawthorne police department youth program. I knew I really wanted to work with kids. There’s a lot of negativity in this community and I wanted to change that,” says Henderson.

He was able to get funding thanks to a few solid sponsors like Home Depot and Southern California Edison, and in 2010 was able to restart his non-profit. This time, Henderson’s efforts have been so successful, that the center’s offices are now too small and he’s looking to move to a bigger location when the lease expires in December of 2012.

On a Mission headquarters on W. Vernon Ave. in South LA. (Photo: Veronica Villafañe)

“Our mission is to teach kids life skills that the school isn’t teaching them. We want to bring them awareness, build their self esteem, self respect and teach them to respect others,” states Henderson. “We have 14 and 15 year-olds getting girls pregnant, but they don’t have any skills to get gainful employment. We have to change all of that.”

On a Mission’s signature program is called “Boys to Men,” geared at 12 to 17 year old males. During the first part of the eight week mentoring and behavior modification program, the instructors talk about gangs and its consequences. After addressing that issue, the lectures cover topics that will help the kids in the future.

The boys learn basic life skills like how to get an email account, how to open a bank account, prepare a resumé, how to dress and prepare for a job interview – even how to tie a tie. They’re also taught how to set goals and to think about different career options.

Edwin Henderson (left) receives a check from Black Celebrity Giving, which named On a Mission non-profit of the year. (Courtesy of On a Mission)

“The kids enjoy the program. There are guest speakers and they learn something new every week. We try not to make it like school. We also talk about girls, dating, date rape and violence. We help them understand what’s right from wrong,” explains Henderson.

On a Mission also works with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Jeopardy Program, which targets at-risk youth. They have also partnered with View Park Middle School, where they focus on pregnancy prevention for both boys and girls.

As part of his self-esteem and leadership training efforts, Henderson takes kids on field trips. Last year, a group visited Washington, D.C. This year, another group went to Sacramento. In June, he’ll be taking at risk youths on a “scared straight” trip to San Quentin.

“Now is the time to make a positive difference with these kids – before it’s too late.”

Due to the effectiveness of On a Mission’s Boys to Men program, they get referrals from LAPD, the court, probation officers and even parents themselves.

Edwin Henderson (left) with a group of On a Mission kids. (Courtesy of On a Mission)

In January, Henderson received the Black Celebrity Giving award for non-profit of the year. But he’s determined to do more.

“I’d like to get a van to go pick up kids in places that are further away, that can’t make it here without public transportation…. My vision is to someday have our own facility, with a basketball court and pool, where we can provide a safe place for the kids,” he says.

Henderson is a firm believer of his mission statement: “What good is a man that becomes successful, but does not give back to his community? The purpose of On A Mission is not only to teach youth to become successful in life, but to also empower their community, and uplift those around them. Youth that pass through our program will become better sons, better brothers, better men, and one day better fathers. We are young, we are leaders, we are ON A MISSION.”

On a Mission is located at 3031 W. Vernon Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90008.
Office number: 323.298.4779

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