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Open Heart Leaders helping communities with mental health wellness and education

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Posted at 7:39 PM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 22:42:58-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego woman is opening her heart to help underprivileged and urban communities.

"Any client or participant that walks through our doors, we want to take care of their needs as a one-stop-shop," April Laster said.

Laster is the founder of Open Heart Leaders. The organization provides wraparound resources for mental health and education, from life skills workshops and counseling to leadership development for all ages.

Laster said her passion for helping others came from her own adversities as a young girl.

"I struggled with depression, anxiety, anger issues, just life, you know," Laster said.

It wasn't until college that Laster said she found her confidence and created Open Heart Leaders.

The organization currently has around 150 participants.

"It's an immediate sigh of relief when you can walk into an agency and see that sister or that brother or someone who speaks the same language as you," Laster said.

Jenna Richardson sought out Open Heart Leaders services for her adopted son.

"I didn't want him to ever feel like he didn't belong in my family, so I wanted to jump ahead of any attachment issues or wondering why me," Richardson said.

After seeing how impactful the organization was for her son, Richardson joined as a youth mentor herself.

"After a few weeks, you see them [kids] open up. They're talking about school, or they're maybe into music," Richardson said.

Last month, the county Board of Supervisors honored Open Heart Leaders for its work and commitment to helping people, as Laster puts it, "live their best lives."

"We're going to continue to build, we're going to continue to love, we're going to continue to thrive and approach every situation with an open heart," Laster said.

Currently, Laster is working to raise $325,000 for her heart-to-heart program, which would provide 50 ex-offenders free counseling for one year.

The program is also looking for more male mentors.