But now this group says they need help finding permanent accommodation to keep their doors open.
“I come here because it’s kind of relaxing,” Cazandra Escobar said. “In Kensington, it’s not safe.”
For teens like Escobar, who come to the Equity Project, the program provides refuge from the violence and opioid epidemic plaguing their neighborhoods.
“I feel at home here,” said Kyle de Castillo.
Unlike other pockets of the city that struggle with gun violence, Kensington is also the epicenter of the heroin epidemic.
Founder Natalie Knochenhauer says that’s why it’s so necessary for these children to have a safe space.
“If something stressful is going on, you can go to a park,” Knochenhauer said. “Unfortunately, in Kensington, because that’s the center of the opioid epidemic, that’s where people with addictions congregate.”
Knochenhauer started the Equity project in 2019. The pandemic forced her to scale down her single-handed skeletal staff sometimes operating from her Kensington home.
The grant money enabled her to open her space late last year, but she says they need permanent accommodation within the next six months.
“I really hope so. The good news is that we are very frugal,” Knochenhauer said. “We know the problems at Kensington won’t be solved in six months, a year or two years, so having a space like this that counteracts what’s happening outside is essential.”
The program does not turn away any child – and most of the teenagers who participate in it have heard about it by word of mouth from their friends.
Knochenhauer says a total of 100 to 150 children are helped through this program.
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