Partner Q & A: Tavan Pechet

May 31, 2012

Tavan Pechet is President of Pechet Advisors where he advises families on Family Office Management including the Governance, Strategy and Operations of family wealth. He has been a member of LASVP since 2010.

Q: Why did you join LASVP?

 Tavan: For years, I have counseled my wealthy family clients to be more strategic with their philanthropy but realized that I had ignored my own. I found that when I gave to a charity for which I felt no passion the dollars became more valuable to me in my pocket, but when I gave to a charity about which I was passionate then I wanted to give more and more. So I reached out to LASVP as an opportunity to explore my own philanthropic focus while simultaneously using my professional skills to help charities.

Q: What is your role with LASVP? Why did you get involved in this area?

 Tavan: I serve on the Strategic Planning Committee and chair the Governance Team. What gets me up in the morning is adding value. With my work in strategic planning for family enterprises and family governance, my background in law and my executive experience, I thought that these were ways I could add value to LASVP and its partners. Also, a business school friend made me do it.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Tavan: Cheesy 80s music, from Terrence Trent D’Arby to REO Speedwagon to the Scorpions. And very sad songs like Jeff Buckley’s cover of Hallelujah (who can forget CJ and Simon on The West Wing?). Any chance this makes the world a better place?

Q: What did you dream of being when you were a kid?

Tavan: An Olympic hockey player. The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” was defining and patriotic and emotional. I spent most of my winters as a kid playing at an outdoor rink near Boston. Your question is about when I was a kid, but I still dream of it! If I could have done anything in life, it would be to play hockey for the US in the Olympics.

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?

 Tavan: While I would love to fix everything, I tend to be a little more fatalistic about the human condition. As sad as it may be, disease and natural disasters are part of the human condition. So when forced to prioritize, I focus on defending innocent victims of bad actions–all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So I support organizations that assist victims of rape and domestic abuse, and organizations that defend victims such as law enforcement and military veterans.


Let Our Passions Lead the Way…

May 23, 2012

Diane Helfrey is a Founding Partner, board member, and Executive Director of LA Social Venture Partners. LASVP held a General Partner Meeting on May 16, 2012. Here is Diane’s recap of the evening:

It was great to see everyone at the Partner Meeting on May 16th! Board chair, Claudia Sangster got us off to a wonderful start by having everyone tell what their philanthropic passions are. Hearing the wide-ranging yet overlapping passions we have among our Partners really set the context for unveiling of our new strategic direction. Shared interests and passions are what bring us together, and what have inspired our vision to create a larger community of high-impact philanthropists who will catalyze social change in Los Angeles!

First, the stories…

Several Partners shared how LASVP has helped them amplify their philanthropic impact. Ken Deemer said that before LASVP he was “just writing a check and hoping someone does something good with it.” Now utilizing knowledge and experiences gained through LASVP, he is much more strategic about the organizations he supports and also serves in volunteer leadership roles with Environmental Charter Schools and USC’s Hybrid High. Charlie Steinmetz is also active on a variety of boards, but sometimes didn’t know how to effectively address issues that arose in board meetings. Through LASVP, he’s developed relationships with other Partners who he can call on as expert resources when he has a question. Richard Landers described how his involvement with LASVP has led him to ask what it would really take to drive education reform. His exploration has piqued his interest to explore advocacy as a means of creating systemic social change, and he invited others to learn with him.

We also heard from a highly-energized (and energizing!) Amy Johnson about the exciting work she had been doing with our investee, Synergy Academies. One of the keys to Synergy’s success is how they “teach teachers to teach.” However, many of the secrets and techniques are best known by co-founder Randy Palisoc, whose time coaching teachers became more and more constrained as they grew from 1 school to 3. Amy and Randy have teamed up to capture this knowledge in an iBook that includes videos, text and graphics, and can be used by teachers at any time. Now that’s creative!

Amy’s passion, skills, and willingness to dive in have given her the chance to make a difference at Synergy Academies in a way that will ripple out to the teachers, students, and community of South Central LA. Think of the potential if we had 500 Partners like Amy. Think of how – together – we could shape Los Angeles for the better.

How we build on this momentum, together …

These and other stories demonstrate the value of being part of a community where we can harness our passions, dig in to social issues together, learn from each other, and invest in nonprofits doing incredible work to improve the quality of life in Los Angeles. This is exactly what we want for the whole Partnership. And as board member Way-Ting Chen said, “We need to invest in ourselves as an organization” so this can happen.

Over the last year, our strategic planning process illuminated our strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Our dual mission hasn’t changed, but we’ll change some of what we do in order to enhance the Partner experience and evolve aspects of our capacity building programs to be increasingly driven by Partner interests. A key insight that shaped our strategic direction was that we have been unbalanced in allocating resources toward our dual mission. Understandably, in our early years, dramatically more resources have gone toward nonprofit capacity building than to philanthropy development. Even though we learn a ton through hands-on experience, we concluded that focusing on the needs of our Partnership is critical to our next level of success. We believe that when Partners are consistently equipped with the right knowledge, skills, support, and networks, we are better able to add value by building relationships with, advising, and make connections for the nonprofits we support.

We are excited about our focus, our future, and our potential to have a greater impact – together.

If you missed the Partner Meeting and want to know more, there are several things you can do. You can 1) view the slides here, 2) join conference calls that will be scheduled in the next 1-2 months to discuss the strategic direction, 3) contact Diane with questions, or 4) join one of our working groups that will develop our implementation plans.

Partner Q & A: Diane Manuel

May 21, 2012

Diane Manuel has been an LASVP Partner since 2011, and has served on our Investment Committee, Recruiting Team, and Strategic Planning Team.  Find out more about this multi-talented Partner!

Q: Why did you join LASVP?

Diane: Having previously worked in grantmaking and philanthropic organizations, I want to work with a diverse group of people who support social change and are willing to work through the struggles to support this.

Q: What do you listen to when you’re stuck in traffic?

Diane: Hip hop, funk and anything I can party to (throw your hands up in the air; party like you just don’t care!), or sports radio.

Q: What is your favorite part about being involved in LASVP?

Diane: The work is hard and challenging…listening and appreciating the perspectives of others, listening and appreciating the work and perspective of the Investees. If it was all easy, it would have been done already.

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?

Diane: The Downtown Library – just an absolutely beautiful building. Hang in the library; lunch at Patina…can’t get any better.

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?

Diane: Creating and supporting advocacy agendas for good food, nutrition, activity, and safety for communities of color.

Q: Who was your favorite teacher in school?

Diane: Mrs. Hickman, my 2nd grade teacher. She was thoughtful, fun, nice, and demanding. As an adult, I met her granddaughter while working at the Getty. Now, Mrs. Hickman’s granddaughter, Jennifer Hickman, is one of my best buddies. Small world, right?

Q: Which nonprofit organization do you wish everyone knew about?

Diane: Liberty Hill, because they promote social change.

You can learn more about Diane and all of our LASVP Partners on our website.

Snapshot of a Change Maker: Meg Palisoc

May 21, 2012


One amazing change maker that LASVP has gotten to know over the past few years is Meg Palisoc,  co-founder and CEO of our Investee Synergy Academies.  Find out more about Meg’s journey and how LASVP has helped along the way:

Public education is supposed to provide equal opportunity for all, but the low-performing, over-crowded, and under-resourced schools in low-income areas like South Los Angeles show that the reality falls short of the ideal.

How do we fix this problem? Many of us have donated to local schools, voted for pro-education policies, or maybe volunteered as tutors. Meg Palisoc and her husband Randy went much farther.

“We said, ‘We’re teachers who are passionate about what we’re doing. Let’s start our own school.’”

Meg started her career in the education field, but not in the elementary schools of South L.A. She worked in higher education administration, serving as the Director of Career Services at USC’s School of Engineering. In this position, Meg noticed that there were a limited number of women and minority students getting into engineering careers, especially those from the inner-city. She learned from her husband Randy, an elementary school teacher, that inner-city students were coming into school woefully underprepared, and that the schools were not meeting their needs.

Meg realized that she couldn’t remediate 13 years of bad education at the college level. Following in her husband’s footsteps, she said goodbye to her job at USC and became a third grade teacher in a South LA public school. She was shocked by what she found. “Even the kids who came from English-speaking families did not know how to write their first names correctly,” she says.

Meg and Randy knew that educational inequalities of this magnitude required a bigger solution. But as you might expect, starting a new charter school is no small task. They worked countless hours and even took out a line of credit on their home to start up Synergy Academies. “We had these very blunt conversations with each other and said, ‘Are we willing to risk everything, including our house, for the chance to try and do something pretty incredible in South LA?’ And we decided, yeah, we were.”

That leap of faith paid off. Synergy Academies now operates three schools that serve students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, and their results are incredible. In a neighborhood where academic failure is endemic, Synergy students test in the top 10% statewide. That atmosphere of success is palpable on Synergy campuses. In some public school hallways, anarchy reigns and bullying runs rampant. But the “scholars,” as they are called at Synergy, seem, well, scholarly. They are well-behaved and focused on their work, eager to learn and willing to participate.

In 8 years, Synergy Academies has grown from 120 students to 1,100 students. The organization has expanded to meet the needs of the growing student body.  In 2010, Synergy connected with LA Social Venture Partners. “LASVP came at a very good time in our organization’s history,” says Meg. “We had reached the point where we did need expertise and help to take us to the next level.”

In addition to providing capacity building grants, SVP provides hands-on help from Partners like Candy Deemer, who meets with Meg twice a month for 1-on-1 executive coaching sessions. “She’s been really instrumental in helping me grow as a leader,” says Meg. Other Partners provide help in areas like fund development, IT, and marketing. “Everybody’s so supportive. People want to see us succeed. We appreciate that. And I appreciate the honest feedback… I think it’s good to get that, because we do want to do what’s best for our kids.”

And that’s what all of Meg’s hard work and sacrifices come down to—trying to do what’s best for the kids at Synergy. Even when she’s attending the the administrative responsibilities that are inherent to her role as CEO, the students are first in her mind. Her secret to staying grounded? “I still consider myself a teacher first.”

If you want to learn more about Synergy, don’t miss their last “Trade Secrets” tour of the year on May 30th.  Find out more and RSVP here. 

The Most Important Bus Ride of the Year

May 21, 2012


One of our LASVP staff members recently took a trip with Get on the Bus.  Find out what Jessica had to say about volunteering with the Fast Pitch winning organization. 

About half-way through my day of volunteering with 2011 Fast Pitch-winning organization Get on the Bus, it hit me—this is the hardest I’ve worked in years. Don’t get me wrong, we work pretty hard at LASVP, but sitting at a desk in an air-conditioned office hardly compares to a 19-hour day spent corralling a bus-load of excited kids to and from the women’s prisons in Chowchilla.

Get on the Bus meets a need that never even occurred to me until I heard about it from Executive Director Karen van de Laat. (You can hear her yourself in her 3-minute fast pitch.) Most prisons are hundreds of miles away from many of the inmates’ families. The children, who have been separated from their mothers through no fault of their own, do not have the means to visit them. That’s where Get on the Bus steps in. On the Friday before Mother’s Day, over 30 busses set out for different prisons with hundreds of kids and their guardians in tow. I volunteered on a double-decker bus bound for Central California Women’s Facility—a bus that LASVP helped fund with the $5,000 grant Karen earned for Get on the Bus in last year’s Social Innovation Fast Pitch program.

In the grand scheme of things $5,000 sounds like a small amount, but those funds helped provide an experience that was truly priceless. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be separated from your child—but the looks in those women’s eyes gave me some idea of how wonderful it feels to see them for the first time in months, or in some cases, years. Get on the Bus also provides an atmosphere of normalcy that makes the visit a great memory for mothers and children alike. While the kids sat on the grass outside with their moms and ate pizza and ice cream, it was easy to forget that we were behind prison gates. For a few hours, they were just like any other family enjoying lunch in the sunshine. They played tag, sang silly little songs, mothers braided their daughters’ hair–simple things that on that afternoon meant so much. When the afternoon was over and it was time to say goodbye, there were many tears from both mothers and children. But there was also a sense of hope–this wasn’t goodbye forever. While the long separation would be incredibly difficult to endure, there was the promise of reuniting–either inside the prison next Mother’s Day or, if it came sooner, when the women were released to be with their families again. This is where Get on the Bus helps in the long-term: as I learned from Karen, inmates who have visits with their children are less likely to reoffend.

The women and children I met on my trip left an indelible impression on me. They were endlessly patient. Taking kids on a road trip can be trying under the best of circumstances, but despite the additional emotional stress of the day, the kids didn’t whine or cry or throw tantrums. They were unbelievably sweet and polite. One 5 year old girl said to me, unprompted by an adult, “Thank you for giving me a blanket. That was very kind of you.”

As with any volunteer-run event, there were a few glitches and delays—at one point I saw a toddler running around in an adult-sized Get on the Bus t-shirt that fit him like a full-length gown—but the kid’s guardians never got impatient or upset with our blunders. On the contrary, they offered helping hands throughout the trip. And even in the midst of the exhaustion of the long day and the sadness of saying goodbye to their loved ones, every single guardian took a moment that day to tell me thank you. I was absolutely humbled by the strength and kindness that they displayed.

In the end, these families made my long day of hard work with Get on the Bus absolutely worthwhile. The old cliché of volunteerism holds true—you get more than you give. I walked away physically exhausted but with a renewed dedication to doing all I can to make life more livable for my neighbors. Lucky for me, I have a job that allows me to do just that.

-Jessica Place, Program & Communications Associate, LASVP

Thank you, SVP, for helping to make this trip possible for all of the kids and grown-ups on Bus F to Chowchilla. To see more photos from the Mother’s Day trip, check out this article from the National Post, or go to On their website, you can also learn about getting involved as a sponsor or volunteer.

Sarah Hill’s VISTA F.A.Q.s

May 7, 2012

Sarah Hill is the newest member of the LASVP team, and an Americorps Volunteer in Service to America.  Not quite sure what that means?  You’re not alone.  Here are some questions that Sarah has heard since starting her year of service.

You’re not from around here, are you, kid?
No, Sir. I’m from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I grew up in a little town in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains called Prestonsburg.

I suppose the turnip truck tipped over on the 10 then, huh?
Well, no. I’m here as a member of the AmeriCorps VISTA program.

So… you’re a VISTA. What does that mean?
VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America. The VISTA program is part of AmeriCorps, which is basically like the domestic version of the Peace Corps. The focus of the VISTA program is alleviation of poverty in America and I’m here with LASVP to help build the capacity of the organization. When LASVP creates positive change in the lives of underserved people, I know I’ve done something to help break the cycle of poverty in America.

And they don’t even pay you?! You’re a volunteer right?
Technically, I receive a living stipend from the government that is 10% above the poverty line. So America is kind of paying me.  VISTAs are a great bargain for the country–last year the program received $99 million in funding and put $187 million right back into the community.  So spending a year or so living on rice and Ramen noodles is worth it.

How do you live in Los Angeles on that budget?!
[laughs] The same way other people in California and the rest of the nation do it! With difficulty. The difference for me is that at the end of my VISTA service I can use my education (double majored in English and French) and skills to help me find other work. Others aren’t so lucky.

Okay, then. What else do you do?
I can say the alphabet backwards. Laugh if you must, but I’ve found it to be a pretty handy thing to know. I also love to read and I’m just generally enjoying all this California sunshine.

More Vegetables, Please: Helping GrowingGreat Grow

May 4, 2012

Like most nonprofit Executive Directors, Sarah Gelb always has something to keep her busy.  “It’s always a challenge to get done what you need to get done in a day, and to get the funding and support we need to put on our programs and continue to grow,” she says.  The stress that must come along with the job doesn’t seem to have worn down her enthusiasm, though—maybe that’s one benefit of the healthy lifestyle that GrowingGreat advocates.

Sarah has been at the helm of GrowingGreat, an LASVP Investee focused on bringing nutrition education to kids in public schools, since 2009, and was a long-time supporter before then.  An athlete with a background in education, GrowingGreat unites Sarah’s passions.  “GrowingGreat gives [students] the tools to live longer and live happier, and will be the foundation that makes them successful, healthy adults.”

GrowingGreat clearly has an impact on the kids they reach.  According to Sarah, one third-grader told his mom that he wouldn’t go to bed until she bought the healthy cereal he had sampled in a GrowingGreat lesson that day.  Other young food activists are less extreme in their methods, but just as fired-up about having healthy choices—at one elementary school, students asked the administration to provide more Swiss chard in the cafeteria.  Kids demanding more vegetables?  GrowingGreat is clearly doing something right. And thanks to Sarah, the rest of the team at GrowingGreat, and the help they’ve received from LASVP Partners, the organization is expanding to reach even more students.

“We’re so fortunate to have LASVP as part of our team.  They have definitely helped us create the systems and the foundations that have allowed us to grow as effectively as we have the last three years.”  One project that LASVP Partners lent a hand to was creating a web model that will allow GrowingGreat to share its program online and spread quality nutrition education far beyond LA County.   “To build this online model has been one of my biggest accomplishments,” says Sarah, “because now the organization is in a position to scale and bring this really incredible curriculum and training to anyone who wants it.”

Sarah is definitely leaving a great legacy of accomplishments behind her.  While GrowingGreat will be sad to see her go, she has helped build a foundation for future success that the organization will continue to build on.  “It’s been exciting for me to be part of the growth and change as the organization moves forward,” says Sarah, “and LASVP has been a really huge asset in helping us do that.”

If you want to do something for GrowingGreat, you can:

Volunteer your time with LASVP.  Contact Sarah at to find out  more about current GrowingGreat projects.

Become a GrowingGreat board member.  Contact Kristy at to learn more.

Bring GrowingGreat to your child’s school.  Click here to learn how.