Lauri Burns is the founder of The Teen Project, a non-profit organization founded in 2007, whose mission is to give every foster child an equal chance in life. As a young girl, Lauri was a victim of an inadequate foster care system.
Following a tumultuous early childhood with abusive and neglectful parents, she developed a level of distrust for authority that ultimately landed her in juvenile detention. Like many young adults who age out of the foster care system with no family, money or place to call home, she ended up on the streets. From drug and alcohol dependency, to an unplanned pregnancy and countless stints at group homes and finally on the streets as a prostitute, she turned her life around after she was miraculously saved by a kind stranger. Now, she is on a crusade to end homelessness amongst emancipated teens who must constantly worry about where to live next. Lauri Burns picks up where the system falls short.
In 1987, Lauri was offered a safe place to live, drug treatment, and a college grant to become a computer network engineer. By the age of 26, Lauri was working full time and able to care for her then 4-year-old child. Her outreach to others in jeopardy began when she started offering classes at her home for addicted women with children. Lauri also took in her first abused child.
Before she founded The Teen Project, Lauri had been a foster parent to 18 teens. She found that caring for foster children brought her personal rewards beyond her expectations, but she knew that she could not take every child in need into her own home. The Teen Project offers hundreds of teens, ages 17 to 24 the support, guidance, and opportunity to have a promising future.
To date, Lauri has been a foster parent to 30 at risk teens. She currently has three young women living in her home for whom she provides the tools and support they need to become successful members of society. Because she can relate to the teens she takes in, she has a way of engaging them that supports full open disclosure without fear of being judged.
Recently, Lauri wrote about her journey from the streets to success in her book Punished for Purpose. Her heartbreaking story reveals her horrific experiences and the “13 angels and mentors” who intercepted her life and helped to mold her into the person she is today. The book is now available through Amazon and 75% of the proceeds go to The Teen Project.
What are you working on right now?
A drop-in center for homeless youth in Venice Beach and a movie script for my life story.
What does your typical day look like?
I get up around 5:00 am and drink two shots of espresso to get a kick start. With one hour to get ready, I leave notes for the teen girls that live with me to remind them what to do that day. I have an hour commute to Northrop Grumman, where I work for 8 hours a day. Each night of the week is different: on Monday nights I typically hold a staff meeting with The Teen Project volunteers. On Tuesday nights, I host a dinner and a sexual abuse group at my home. On Wednesday evenings, I have a dinner and a recovery meeting at my home. Sometimes I am free on Thursday nights and will work on grants, budgets and answer emails from my laptop while watching Criminal Minds. Then on Friday nights, I am typically booked for speaking engagements and I like to take my girls with me. We will go out to dinner on the way or afterward. Saturdays are spent script writing or doing Teen Project desk work during the day. At night, I spend time with my husband. On Sundays, I offer breakfast and sexual abuse groups with The Teen Project girls. Every Sunday night, we have a big family dinner where my older kids and grandkids come.
3 trends that excite you?
Natural gas vehicles, text messaging and Pilates.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life by speaking them out loud. Someone once told me that to talk, is to create! Martin Luther King had a vision and he shared it in such a way that he was able to paint it into the hearts and minds of others. G-d said “Let there be light” and there was light! I love to speak my vision in such a way that others can see and understand it. I cannot do this alone. My community of team members have either seen me speak, heard my CD or read my book and I was able to transmit my vision to them!
What inspires you?
Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
One mistake I made was paying large amounts of money for people to help me start my non-profit. Most of the things I paid for (business plan, grant writing) did not pan out. The people reading grant requests are tired of looking at cold statistics, and want to be moved and inspired by real life stories. I learned that I am the one who can best tell my story because it lives in my heart. I will never charge anyone that wants to help our kids. I mentor people throughout the US, and share everything for free – 501(c)3 app, business plans, budgets, grants etc. We work together as a team to help our children- why would anyone charge for that?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have a lot of great ideas in my book. One of the main tools is something I picked up from a few very successful business leaders. I made an acronym out of it: MASTER your dreams. M – Maintain the belief that you can do it. A – Add something to it every day, no matter how small – even if it is only one email. S – See it like it exists now. T – Talk about it everywhere you go! E – Eliminate discussing it with negative people who do not see it or believe it. R – Relationships with successful people, and follow their habits.
What do you read every day, and why?
My email. Due to the amount of emails I receive from parents, youth, supporters and agencies, one day without checking and answering them sets me back. I am prone to losing one in a flurry of incoming emails.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
My own. It has so much for everyone. It documents the true story behind what you see every day – drugs, prostitution, crime. The intimate details of my therapy sessions and how the first years of our lives affect the rest. The book’s main message is that by employing the simple methodology that is common in so many of our leaders, anyone can rise above their challenging circumstances and live their dreams.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Email and Blackberry! Without them, I would lose my mind.
Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?
John Burton because he is truly an inspiration to our most vulnerable youth.
Matisyahu because he is an amazing performer.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
My rabbi – Rabbi Zalman Marcus of Mission Viejo Chabad. His sense of responsibility for people in our community, and his care for the many people he supports and builds personal relationships with, are traits I think we all could learn from. He also remembers everyone’s name, even if he just met them once!
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.
The girls that live with me, my dog Muffin and I were driving in The Teen Project van headed to camp out above Santa Barbara. One of the girls went on the trip last year too. When we started the drive, the girl that was there last year said, “Whatever you do, just don’t feed Muffin McDonald’s again!” (It had a bad effect on his belly, which was bad for all of us trapped in the van with him). A few hours into the trip, we were all starving. After passing a few fast food restaurants in a dangerous neighborhood, we jumped back on the freeway to find a safer place to stop. Of course, the only thing we could find was McDonalds. We decided that Muffin definitely deserved to eat something and it was the burger that made him sick last year. So we ordered Chicken McNuggets for Muffin. Twenty minutes later, the girl yelled “OH NO!!!!” and within seconds, we all knew what had happened. Chicken McNuggets is now removed from Muffin’s diet as well.
How do you handle working full time, raising kids, being a wife, running a non-profit, writing a script, speaking and everything else that you do?
I depend on my Blackberry and coffee and I try to focus on the next 24 hours. If I thought about everything that I have to do for the entire week, I would probably get stressed out. I realized that if I just get 7 hours of sleep, I can feel healthy and get a lot done. My biggest stresser is not getting it ALL done. I do what I can and then I go to sleep. A mentor of mine used to say “Good is good enough,” and I live by this rule.
What do you like to do most in your free time?
Eat! I love food! Since I grew up in an abusive environment where there were no hugs or affection, food became my comfort at an early age. Fortunately my metabolism is pretty good, so I can eat a lot without gaining weight. Hungry or not, if it tastes good, I will eat well beyond capacity.
The best way to connect with me is through my personal Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org