As the intrepid host of “Survivor,” Jeff Probst has traipsed the globe and spent time in the most uninviting landscapes. But in all his travels, Probst says he’s learned there is no environment more hostile than the city streets when you are a homeless teen.
That’s why three years ago Probst founded the Serpentine Project, which aids young adults in California who have aged out of the foster care system and need help finding a home and a job.
Probst was inspired by the life of a close friend, a onetime foster child who was adopted by a loving family and eventually received her master’s degree and launched a professional career. That friend’s sister, however, was never adopted and ran away from her foster home at 16.
“She’s living a very different life, and her future doesn’t have the same opportunities,” Probst says. “I saw this disparity, and it really touched me. The idea behind Serpentine was that every kid deserves the chance to fulfill their promise.”
Probst funded the nonprofit org, which currently serves six youths, almost entirely by himself. But two years ago, he received a big assist from “Survivor” boss Mark Burnett, who tapped Serpentine as the beneficiary of the show’s end-of-season auctions. That gesture has put an estimated $400,000 in Serpentine’s coffers, which pays for college tuition, books and rent.
“We took a smaller approach and tried to change a few lives in a meaningful way,” he says. “When we take a youth on, we’re not going to let them down. A friend once said to me, ‘These kids don’t need tickets to a Dodgers game.’ And I knew what he meant. We aim to be like a mom and dad — always there.”
As of January, Serpentine has joined forces with the larger nonprofit org Alliance for Children’s Rights, which has provided 100,000 kids in L.A. with free legal assistance and advocacy.
“We told them, ‘If we merge with you, we can create a little pocket within your organization where we can really do deep,’ ” Probst says. “And we can piggyback on all of their great resources.”