By Edward Henderson
Oftentimes purpose is revealed through the things we lacked growing up. The silver lining in the darkness that surrounds traumatic moments in the past or making poor decisions is that it equips us with valuable insight that can aid others in their journey to avoid similar situations. All it takes is vulnerability, transparency and an Open Heart. April Laster, founder of the non-profit Open Heart Leaders has all three.
Born in Jackson Mississippi and raised in California, Laster used her experiences as a child to fuel her as the greater purpose of her life was slowly revealed.
“I grew up in a single parent home,” said Laster. “A lot of the things I learned about the outside world and life was taught was first hand through experience. It wasn’t like my mother wasn’t available to have these types of conversations. There was a lot of knowledge I didn’t receive as a kid. If there would have been programs to help when these things came to me, a lot of different decisions would have been made in my life. It was a passion of mine that I wanted to be for these kids what somebody should have been for me.”
Always focused on her education, Laster attended Alabama A&M University, a historically black college, to major in Mass Communications. In 2006, she started a program called Open Heart Educators under the umbrella of her school and a local church in the area. The organization developed programs that were ‘see a need, fill a need’ for minority communities. She used local community centers, boys and girls clubs, and the YMCA to enhance the knowledge of the people based on the need of that community.
After college, Laster moved back to San Diego and started a career in Quality Assurance. Her passion for service still continued and in June of 2015, she attained 501c3 active non-profit status for her organization which is now called Open Heart Leaders. The focus of her organization now is to be a network and resource hub for underprivileged and urban communities.
“If you have a community that is really about community then the outcome of its health and success is ultimately different based on what kind of passion they will put back into it,” said Laster.
Open Heart Leader’s signature programming revolves around interactive discussion programs out of Southeast. Their ‘Glass House’ session is for adults 19 years of age and up, their ‘Real Talk’ session is for ages 13 to 18.
“The main focus of discussions is to teach them how to not listen to speak but to learn something from it. We bring in experts depending on what the topic is so that we are drifting towards facts and knowledge verses opinion.”
For their efforts in the community, Open Heart Leaders was a selected organization added on the San Diego County’s Crime Prevention List, which allows us to aid in crime prevention and recidivism reduction services.
Looking ahead, Laster is excited about launching Humanity Heart this January, a school pantry program through Open Heart Leaders. The pantry will be student managed, housing toiletries and other grooming necessities for underprivileged children that are in schools below the poverty line. Within the next five years, Lester also hopes to open a resource facility in the middle of Southeast to house the different programs to implement in the area.
Open Heart Leaders is currently looking for volunteers and interns in certain need areas to help advance the organization and the mission of ‘approaching every situation with an open heart’.
“I want people to know that we are truly a network and recourse hub for the community. Don’t be afraid to reach out with ideas and programs to implement within the community. It’s my job to try to help see that though in the proper context.”
Visit openheartleaders.org for more information about programs and internship opportunities.