Oakland, CA

Chief Executive Officer, First Place for Youth

The Organization


First Place for Youth (First Place), a $25M nationally-scaling nonprofit committed to supporting young people as they transition from foster care to adulthood, seeks a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to lead First Place into a new era of impact and geographic expansion.

First Place for Youth believes that foster youth, just like all youth, need a runway of support in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.  First Place partners with young people in finding a safe place to live, getting their first job, and continuing their education. Headquartered in Oakland, CA, First Place serves young people in six California counties and two additional states – with additional expansion on the horizon.

Leading a dynamic, youth-centric, and outcomes-driven organization, the new CEO will build upon First Place’s strong data-driven programming and national brand as it seeks to strengthen its impact and continue development of the national My First Place Affiliate Network.

This moment of opportunity requires an inspirational leader with an exceptional combination of qualities, skills, and experiences, including: a sophisticated understanding of executive leadership in child welfare, education, workforce development, or a related field; a proven ability to grow and scale an effective model to the national stage; a track record of supporting the use of data and evaluation to prove impact and improve programming; a demonstrated commitment to equity and inclusion internally and externally; a bold and effective approach to fundraising; and proven success convening a broad set of stakeholders in advancing evidence-informed policy change at the national level.

The ideal candidate will lead First Place with a deep and authentic passion for marginalized young people, overseeing programming, affiliate expansion, policy and advocacy, learning and evaluation, fiscal management and fund development, and the continued growth, development and retention of high-performing staff. S/he/they will be a proven leader with the capacity to inspire, bringing deep and broad networks together in building a larger movement to end the disparities that young people in foster care experience as they enter adulthood.

This search is being conducted with assistance from Allison Kupfer Poteet and Makeba Greene of the national search firm NPAG. For more information and instructions for submitting applications and nominations, please reference the final section of this document.


First Place for Youth (First Place) is a national leader in building and utilizing evidence for how to most effectively address the needs of foster youth as they transition to adulthood. Driven by a relentless pursuit of excellence, First Place is working to increase awareness, change perceptions, and build a movement to eliminate the disparities between foster youth and their non-foster peers.


First Place for Youth believes that all foster kids in the United States can make a successful transition to adulthood, eliminating the disparities between foster youth and their non-foster care peers. First Place knows that, just like all youth, foster youth need a runway of support in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.  Unfortunately, in the United States, many foster youth lack supports for housing, education or other assistance from caring adults; without this:

·       35% of former foster youth experience homelessness;

·       20% will be arrested or incarcerated;

·       54% will drop out of high school; and

·       99% will never graduate from college.

First Place partners with young people in finding a safe place to live, getting their first job, and continuing their education – interventions that are carefully designed, tested, and proven to lead to decreased rates of chronic homelessness, incarceration, and long-term poverty. Since its inception, First Place’s programs have demonstrated that, with the right leadership and support, transition-age foster youth can defy these odds.

Founded in 1998 by graduate students Amy Lemley and Deanne Pearn at the University of California at Berkeley-Goldman School of Public Policy, First Place began with a small grant to provide critical housing and education support to four alumni of foster care. With growing awareness of the significant challenges youth face in exiting foster care, First Place became the first organization in Northern California dedicated exclusively to addressing the lack of affordable housing and resources for this population. With the support of transformational leadership, including that of outgoing CEO Sam Cobbs, First Place has grown into a nationally-recognized organization providing evidence-informed, customized interventions that drive meaningful and measurable change in the long-term success of young people exiting foster care.

Grounded in positive youth development theory, First Place’s approach focuses on partnering with youth in service delivery and providing opportunities that meet their full range of developmental needs – educational, economic, social, and psychological. First Place delivers these interventions through three key program models:

My First Place

My First Place (MFP) is a nationally-recognized model for providing current and former foster youth necessary support in their transition to adulthood.  The program provides one or two-bedroom apartments, support with move-in costs, rent, furnishings, health and nutrition resources, employment support, and other essential services.  Program staff work directly with young people to collectively set and work toward goals, allowing young people to move toward greater independence. MFP serves the most vulnerable former and current transition-age foster youth (ages 18 to 24) who are otherwise often unprepared for independent living. MFP employs a youth-centered, needs-driven, trauma-informed approach to providing youth with support and coaching to learn independent living skills across life domains through real world application.

Steps to Success

The Steps to Success program within First Place is a Career Pathway Program that provides current and former foster youth critical educational and employment supports that increase their ability to perform effectively at a post-secondary level, and ultimately to secure sustainable, living-wage employment. Youth receive one-on-one support to explore and identify a career pathway of interest, work toward stackable vocational certificates, and transition into internships where they gain technical skills and work-based experience. Program staff also work directly with young people in providing education planning, course selection, tutoring, career counseling, resume writing, and other services that directly support their long-term goals.

First Foundation/ Independent Living Skills Program (ILSP)

Key to First Place’s commitment to providing preventative services to foster youth still in care, the First Foundation program is a nationally-recognized, intensive academic and personal counseling program (part of the larger Independent Living Skills Program) that works to keep foster youth from dropping out of school. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has highlighted First Foundation as one of 20 “best practice programs” in the country.


Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, First Place has demonstrated extraordinary impact and success as measured by the outcomes of the foster youth and former foster youth that they serve.

With the support of Tipping Point Community, The Kresge Foundation, The Conrad Hilton Foundation, and New Profit Inc., among others, First Place has built upon its early work in specialized housing and services for former foster youth in Oakland, incorporating and expanding its nationally-recognized employment and education programming.  This holistic, evidence-based and comprehensive approach is changing the dialogue around emancipated youth, shaping the culture and practices of child welfare, and affecting legislation in a way that supports the desired outcome of self-sufficiency.

Since its founding, First Place’s work has been driven by two simultaneous goals: provide result-driven direct services to young people while also initiating and shaping public policies that will improve the lives of youth as they transition out of foster care. By ensuring that effective, evidence-informed direct services drive the organization’s public policy efforts, First Place has a unique opportunity to continually inform, test, implement and refine services for young people in order to support policies that drive the best long-term outcomes for the largest number of foster youth.

The success of First Place’s programming has also attracted significant support from a diverse group of private and public funders, furthering the long-term sustainability of the work. Now in only the second year, First Place’s Ready to Launch Campaign has raised more than $11M of a $15M goal, building a financial foundation for the expansion and enrichment of programs as the work continues to scale rapidly.

My First Place Affiliate Network

Over the past five years, First Place has focused significantly on the refinement and expansion of the flagship My First Place (MFP) program.  The newly formed My First Place Affiliate Network has begun to replicate this model in Boston and the state of Mississippi, with plans for additional expansion to New York City in process.  First Place plans to continue this work, partnering with independent 501(c)3 organizations to launch additional affiliate MFP programs in five to seven cities in the next few years. This affiliate network model allows First Place to leverage existing infrastructure and talent and allow for necessary adaptation, while still upholding rigorous standards for quality and outcomes that are driven by evaluation.

Opportunities and Challenges Facing the New CEO

The new CEO will have the unique opportunity to lead First Place into a new era of growth, expansion, and data-informed sophistication.  Following more than a decade of strong leadership, First Place’s “My First Place” program has become a nationally-recognized model for successful intervention in the transition young people in foster care face as they enter adulthood.  As public and private agencies across the United States wrestle with the short and long-term challenges this population experiences, First Place is responding to significant demand for national expansion and replication of its evidence-informed model.

The next CEO will partner with the Board of Directors in driving a bold vision to use data-informed practices to eliminate the disparities in outcomes that foster youth experience in the United States.  Specifically, the new CEO will provide:

Vision and Leadership

Working collaboratively with the Board of Directors, the new CEO will develop and articulate First Place for Youth’s vision, building upon the strong national brand and significant progress on the existing strategic plan.  In concert with a highly sophisticated senior team, the CEO will drive First Place’s continued growth and affiliate expansion, reflecting the organization’s deep commitment to advancing equity, continuous improvement, and the uncompromising belief that collectively we can eliminate the disparities young people in foster care experience as they enter adulthood.

External Engagement and Movement Building

The CEO will lead First Place for Youth’s engagement with communities, policy makers, affiliate partners, funders, and other youth-serving agencies. In this role, the CEO will act as the chief storyteller and spokesperson for First Place’s work, lifting up the amazing resilience of young people exiting foster care and the data-driven interventions necessary to support a successful transition to adulthood. The new CEO will invite others into a larger movement and cultural shift in the way we collectively support our young people. The CEO will listen and learn with authenticity, working to advance equity and build upon a culture of trust and mutual accountability.

Fund Development

The CEO will be a seasoned, fearless, and highly engaged fundraiser who brings the gravitas and drive to nurture and manage a diverse group of funders and partners and build upon the success of First Place’s current $15M Ready to Launch Growth Campaign. Partnering with senior development staff and the Board of Directors, the CEO will lead the continued growth and diversification of the organization’s funding, including support for the organization’s goal to raise at least $8M in private funds annually.  S/he/they will strengthen First Place’s overall funding base, building a financial foundation that will enable continued sustainable growth and security.

Commitment to Learning and Evaluation

As one of the leading data-driven nonprofits in the nation serving young people, First Place for Youth has not only adopted best practices in the sector, but in many cases has established these best practices for the field. The new CEO will continue to support and strengthen this commitment to robust and innovative evaluation across the organization and within First Place’s affiliate network, ensuring that the use of data is elevated to not just prove what works, but to make real-time improvements that provide meaningful and measurable impact in the lives of young people.

Policy and Advocacy

The new CEO will effectively represent First Place to policy makers and public officials at the regional, state, and federal level, articulating and advancing the organization’s policy agenda and advocacy efforts that are informed directly by the organization’s work with young people. The CEO will seek opportunities to engage these leaders in policy discussions and initiatives that will advance opportunities for First Place to provide broader and more accessible opportunities for young people. In addition, the CEO will support affiliate partners in adapting to different state policy landscapes, using evidence to build credibility for First Place’s interventions within different contexts.

Management and Team Building

The CEO will motivate, inspire, and manage a high-performing and dynamic senior team, including many who have been critical to First Place’s growth trajectory over the past decade. The team is highly engaged and committed, reflecting the broader values of the organization and an eagerness to continue to grow and develop. The successful CEO will nurture the continued development of a strong and inclusive team with effective communication, collaboration, and continued progress toward the organization’s strategic plan.  S/he/they will also ensure the long-term retention and recruitment of diverse professionals who will embrace First Place’s orientation around equity, innovation, excellence, and ongoing evaluation and reflection in their pursuit of the mission.

Board Development and Governance

The new CEO will build a strong partnership with the Board of Directors and will work to solidify and strengthen the culture of excellence and innovation in First Place’s work. The CEO will support the engagement and recruitment of board members as thought partners and key advisors, effectively leveraging their diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences in the continued success and expansion of First Place’s work.

Position Overview


While no one candidate will possess all of the qualifications listed below, we expect that the CEO will embody many of the following professional and personal abilities, attributes, and experiences:

  • A seasoned executive leader with a proven record of success in child welfare, workforce development, education, human services or a related field.
  • Entrepreneurial success in the growth and scale of evidence-informed programming to the national stage; a balanced appetite for risk and innovation paired with a demonstrated understanding of the risk factors, issues, and opportunities present in the field.
  • A deep and authentic passion for marginalized young people and an ability to empathize with their resiliency and the complexity of the challenges they face.
  • Experience leading a high-functioning, diverse team; demonstrated ability to foster and support a strong internal team culture where staff at every level feel a connection to the work.
  • Track record of significant success in engaging and “closing” a diverse group of donors and funders to support both short and long-term financial stability and growth.

·       Well-established credibility and effectiveness in engaging and convening diverse communities, with a deep and sustained commitment to advancing equity, supporting inclusive decision-making, and examining unconscious bias, both internally and externally.

·       A sophisticated understanding of how to advance data-driven policy change, developed in partnership and coalition with key stakeholders to shift the national landscape in effective human services interventions.

·       A champion of data-informed decision-making, with a relentless desire to improve real outcomes for youth and measure progress in meaningful ways.

  • A gifted communicator with high emotional intelligence and a healthy sense of humor; the ability to command a room combined with the wisdom to know when to allow others to take the lead.
  • Ability and willingness to travel and be present both across California and nationally, and the flexibility and sensitivity to work effectively in a wide variety of geographic, political, and cultural settings.
  • Advanced degree preferred or equivalent lived experience that is aligned with First Place’s approach and values.

How To Apply


This search is being conducted by Allison Kupfer Poteet and Makeba Greene of the national search firm, NPAG. Nominations and applications including a cover letter describing your interest and qualifications, and your resume (in Word or PDF format) should be submitted to: FPFY-CEO@nonprofitprofessionals.com. More information about First Place for Youth can be found at www.firstplaceforyouth.org.

Cultivating a diverse and inclusive team is an essential component of First Place for Youth’s commitment to advance equity. Candidates of all backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

NPAG is a national executive search and consulting firm dedicated to serving the mission-driven community by delivering highly-tailored and strategic senior and executive-level search services.

Sign up