By Dena Chapman.

As the grim reporting of all things COVID-19 continues to saturate our daily news cycle, we could all use some happy news for a change…

Enter LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood. LaTanya Johnson is the Founder and CEO of LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood, a small non-for-profit organization whose mission is to provide FREE afterschool services and support to underserved youth living in the Englewood community. LaTanya, affectionately known as The Mother of Englewood, was born and raised in Englewood. She understands firsthand the perils of living in a community riddled with crime, violence and poverty. Growing up in Englewood, resources for affordable, kid-friendly activities were scarce and it wasn’t safe to play outside. LaTanya vowed to one day make a change for the children that would come behind her. Since opening the doors of LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood in June of 2013, LaTanya has provided a safe haven and an abundance of love to over 1,000 children.

In March 2019, the ever-popular reality cable TV show, Returning the Favor, profiled LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood on their program. The premise of the show is to spotlight people who are helping their community to flourish in a big way. At the close of the show, the guest is surprised with a gift that will allow them to do even more in their community. LaTanya was nominated for the feature by Pastor Dwayne Grant of Xperience Church. Returning the Favor gifted LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood with a 15 passenger mini-van, $1,000 worth of toys and school supplies for the kids and a check for $15,000 to help pay rent. LaTanya developed a strong bond with the Returning the Favor staff; they “adopted” her into their family and kept in touch throughout the year.

Fast forward to June 7, 2020, the day the bottom fell out for LaTanya Johnson. An impromptu conversation led her to the discovery that a larger non-for-profit made plans to purchase the building where LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood resided; her building would be demolished and in its place a state of the art community center would be resurrected. LaTanya was shocked and devastated, to say the least. With no monies on reserve and no place for her and her band of youth to go, LaTanya got to work scouting locations and raising funds for a new home; she set up a Go-Fund Me on Facebook. On her own, LaTanya raised $3,500 of her $25,000 goal. Not nearly enough to stay afloat. Once her new family at Returning the Favor learned of her pending eviction, they did what family does best; they embraced her struggle and helped LaTanya fundraise. Returning the Favor activated their own Go-Fund Me on their organization’s Facebook page and the donations skyrocketed past the initial ask goal! It helps to have friends in high places.

Not everyone could rally and rise when hit with a trial of this magnitude in the midst of a pandemic, no doubt. When asked where she drew the strength to keep her head up and persevere, LaTanya responded,

I’ve had to remain humble regardless of anything. I’m here on a mission that God put me here to do; I’ve discovered my mission is helping children. I know that even in the midst of struggle, God comes on time.”

While LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood haven’t yet located a new home, they are in the midst of packing and preparing for their transition. Meanwhile, in the spirit of “returning the favor”, LaTanya and other community organizers created and distributed youth activity relief bags for children to have snacks and fun activities to occupy themselves during COVID 19. Additionally, she and her team assembled graduation gift bags for the graduating class of 2020 in her community.

Courageous, compassionate, committed. These are but a few words to describe LaTanya Johnson, The Mother of Englewood, on a mission to positively impact the lives of young children in her community.

For more information about LaTanya and The Youth of Englewood, you can follow her journey on Facebook or visit her website @ https://www.latanyaandtheyouthofenglewood.org/