Bishop Smith wants to give young men and women coming out of foster care a tangible future.

Bishop Ed Smith created Nehemiah Project LA to address the issues facing youth aging out of foster care. (Courtesy Photo)

Bishop Ed Smith is known as an acclaimed author, world-renowned speaker, educator, philanthropic leader, and pastor. He has assisted business leaders, families, and individuals in building legacies and in fulfilling their God-ordained gifts, talents, and hearts. Now he is making sure transitioning youth have a future with Nehemiah Project LA (NPLA). 

Early on, he was very active in his church, as well as training others in marketing and business classes. 

It was until the late 1980s when Bishop Smith states he got a call on his life to pastor. He stated that becoming a pastor was somewhat in conflict with him. 

“It was something I didn’t want to do,” said Bishop Smith, “I didn’t like pastors.” 

He added, “I had some personal challenges with pastors.” 

But the call on his life was obviously greater than his dislikes. After humbling himself to the Lord’s will, Bishop Smith found himself on a path of purpose. He shared how he had been prepared beforehand when he landed his first job after business school in Minneapolis, MN. 

A look inside the Nehemiah Dream Chaser house. (Courtesy Photo)

“I lived there so I got involved with a small church and I didn’t realize later I was really experiencing building something from the ground up as a church,” said Bishop Smith. 

He would later return to Los Angeles and help his Bishop start his church, ultimately realizing it was all in God’s plan. 

“I was helping out, not knowing one day, I’m going to be doing this myself,” said Bishop Smith. “So, in ’88, when I got the call, I had a clear vision of how to do that.” 

A Bible study morphed into services at Cerritos High school in 1989, where Zoe Christian Fellowship started, which later moved to their 5-acre campus located in Whittier in 1995. 

Bishop Smith shared 20 years into his ministry, he began helping many youth within the church. He was helping many of them with essential needs like getting laptops, transportation and even rent and tuition. It wasn’t until a holiday event that he learned why so many of his youth needed help. 

“I finally got a gathering at my house on New Year’s Day,” said Bishop Smith. “I said ‘I don’t mind helping you all but, where are your parents?’” 

Bishop Smith shared that in unison, they all stated “We don’t have any parents, we’re in foster care.” 

He stated, “It wasn’t on my radar, even as a pastor.” 

NPLA is a faith-based initiative that works with various nonprofits, businesses and government agencies committed to serving the transitional foster youth community. Courtesy Photo

This was a greenlight moment for Bishop Smith, who wanted to take this opportunity to change this situation. He moved from pastoring over his church, which his older son took over, to addressing transitioning youth from the foster care system. 

Established in 2017, NPLA is a faith-based initiative that works with various nonprofits, businesses and government agencies committed to serving the transitional foster youth community into better lives that they can sustain and be successful. Recently, NPLA acquired a house with a goal of getting more for housing transitional youth. 

“Our focus is transitional age youth or former foster youth that age out and typically end up homeless,” said Bishop Smith. “They get caught up in sex trafficking and committing crimes trying to live and survive.” 

Bishop Smith continued, “Often times, a good percentage of them, do not leave foster care [until] 18, 19 or 20 with no GED or high school diploma. 

“And if they do, sometimes they have learning disabilities, they’ve been traumatized and been in, maybe, five-to-six different homes by the time they become 18 or they run away early.” 

According to, as of 2018, African American youth made up the leading demographic in foster care in California at 21.8 percent. According to Bishop Smith, African American youth represent 38 percent of youth in foster care and stay longer within the system. 

“Part of the problem, White families come get their kids, grandma, uncle, somebody more often than not, Latinos do it, more often than not, our kids, nobody comes and gets us,” said Bishop Smith. “So, that’s the problem.” 

Bishop Smith is tackling the situation the way Black families used to—coming together as a family and community to support one another. 

“My messaging, for the Black community in general, to start looking at their heart and looking at the possibilities, how they can start, first of all, with their own family members,” said Bishop Smith. “Secondly, it may not be blood family, maybe other young people.” 

One of NPLA’s models includes getting help from the community through extra rooms or space on their properties for transitional youth. NPLA screens youth and sets them up with families willing to house them.  

“Nehemiah will manage that process for them,” said Bishop Smith. “They’ll be screened, interviewed, we’ll make sure they’re willing to invest in themselves, go to school, get a skill. 

 “It’s not just like, they’re off the street and in your house. We screen them and then we support them and then the homeowner approves it.” 

“We’ll work with them for these kids to get the support.” 

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