The Friendship Campus broke ground Wednesday in Redondo Beach.
The 64,000-square-foot facility will give students with special needs, including some neurotypical students, the postsecondary skills to reshape the workforce and discover their passions.
"A lot of these kids are capable of doing something with their unique abilities and their unique gift," said Yossi Mintz, the executive director of the Friendship Foundation. "If we could just bring that unique gift out, we could really make magic happen."
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According to the National Education Association, U.S. public schools provide special education services to more than 7 million students. In Los Angeles County, nearly 200,000 students are enrolled in special education.
But 8 in 10 Americans with disabilities were not in the labor force in 2021, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"This campus is really a game changer, not just for our community but for the world," said Mintz.
The Friendship Campus will focus on:
- talent and skill building
- personal growth and development programs
- social and emotional wellness
- healthy lifestyle habits and physical fitness
- job training and exploration programs
It will offer digital media training in graphic design, coding and game design. Students can gain experience in hospitality and culinary by learning basic cooking skills and how to read recipes at a Friendship Café and Teaching Kitchen. The campus will also introduce financial literacy to help its students have independence.
"The vocational programs and everything that we'll be able to teach them is going to be next level for them, giving them the skills that will make them excellent employees and helping them launch out into the world," said Kelly Stroman, the managing director of the Friendship Foundation.
Other planned programs include retail, office, education, trades and gardening.
The project is expected to be completed in 2024 at an estimated cost of $55 million. Over the past two years, Mintz said the foundation has raised $42 million.
More than 1,200 people have registered to attend Wednesday's ceremony from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the site at 850 S. Inglewood Ave.
All community members are invited to join the summer festival afterward in Franklin Park, which will include fair food, magicians and activities for children of all ages.
"Today is the day that we've been dreaming about for many, many years," Mintz said.