Partner Q & A: Karen Robertson-Fall

July 27, 2012

Karen Robertson-FallKaren Robertson-Fall is an LASVP Partner who has dedicated more than 15 years of her life to serving vulnerable and underserved people. She is currently a Program Officer in the Planning & Development department at First 5 Los Angeles. 

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Karen: I found out about LASVP in 2006 when I was doing some research for our social venture fund at First 5 LA.  That was my first exposure to SVP, and after exploring the organization a little bit more I was able to come on as a David Rimer Fellow Associate Partner.

What inspires you to want to make a difference?

Karen: During a post graduate school trip to Jamaica, I began having difficulty seeing in one eye. After an MRI, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Back then the prognosis was very grim—the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to have children, that I wouldn’t be able to walk.  With the prospect of a shortened lifespan in front of me, I realized that I wanted to spend my life doing something that mattered, something that would make as much of an impact as possible.  I’ve now lived with MS for 22 years, made a career in philanthropy, and with the improved treatments and technology, my disability hasn’t stopped me from doing everything I can to make an impact.

What is your favorite part about being involved in LASVP?

Karen: I love reading the proposals we receive, both the applications for the Fast Pitch program and from organizations applying to be our next Investee.  It’s great to be exposed to all the creative problem-solving that people are doing—usually you only hear about the problems.

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

Karen: A Supreme Court Justice.  When I was little my dad told me that the most powerful thing a President can do is appoint Justices to the Supreme Court, because they do so much to shape the law and the country.  I thought that would be a great way to do something important.

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

Karen: My husband and I are big Christian music fans.  We listen to a lot of Gospel and Christian Rock on Pandora.

Who was your favorite teacher in school?

Karen: My 5th grade teacher really changed my life.  She was totally committed to me becoming an A student.  We had this astronomy class that I was really into—and I was the only person in the class to get all A’s on the tests.  She really praised me and encouraged me for that accomplishment, and it changed my way of thinking about what I could be.

You can find out more about all of our Partners by clicking here.


Did You Know? 5 Facts from GrowingGreat

July 27, 2012

Get Healthy with GrowingGreat!GrowingGreat‘s mission is to inspire children and adults to adopt healthy eating habits through innovative classroom nutrition lessons, school gardens and community events. The organization has been an LASVP investee since 2010.


1.   65% of the schools GrowingGreat serves are Title 1 Schools, which means that at least 40% of the school’s students come from low-income families.

2.   Studies show that every dollar spent on nutrition education saves $4-$8 in health care costs.

3.   When kids grow their vegetables, they eat their vegetables.  A 2011 study found that students who participated in garden-based learning significantly increased their preference for vegetables.

4.   To help accommodate schools that don’t have the extra space for a traditional garden, GrowingGreat partnered with Wooly Pockets to create curriculum that is adjusted to a vertical hanging wall garden.

5.   GrowingGreat reaches out to educate parents as well as children.  After each lesson, students receive a parent education handout to take home and share with their family that contains a lesson outline, enrichment activities, recipes and coupons.

Click here to find out the different ways you can help GrowingGreat!

Off to New Adventures!

July 27, 2012

Jessica PlaceLASVP Staff Member Jessica Place is headed off to graduate school at Wake Forest University! First as an AmeriCorps VISTA and then as full-time staff, Jessica has contributed hundreds and hundreds of hours to helping LASVP on everything from Fast Pitch to phone calls to Partner Engagement and beyond.

My post-college trajectory has been a little atypical.   After receiving my degree in Women’s & Gender Studies, a discipline that pulls no punches in its critique of both capitalism and the “non-profit industrial complex,” I became an AmeriCorps VISTA serving a philanthropic nonprofit.  While most people definitely wouldn’t call a year of living on a meager government stipend “selling out,” many of my college friends—radical queer anarchist-socialists who host monthly vegan potlucks at the indigenous activism collective—thought that working within the bounds of “the system” was a betrayal of my feminist ideals.  My next step in my life’s journey seems just as inexplicable to them—I’m bound for a Southern theological school.

I’m so glad that I’ve chosen to follow this path.  My time at LASVP has been one of the most valuable learning experiences of my life.  Rather than cancelling out my youthful ideals, learning about different theories of social change, and more importantly, how they are put into practice, has enabled me to envision new possibilities that synthesize the best of both worlds.  As I move forward in my education and learn how to become a leader and activist in my faith community, I will undoubtedly apply what I have learned in my time with SVP.

Working with LASVP has helped me grow, but more importantly, it’s allowed me to contribute something worthwhile to this community.  And the nature of this organization means that my contributions will continue to have a ripple effect after I’ve moved on.  One of my favorite organizations I’ve met through LASVP is BTS Communications—I’m a big fan of their work, but they’re also just a fun group of people to be around.  LASVP had a fairly light touch on the organization—they were winners at our Fast Pitch in 2010.  And yet even that level of involvement has helped them reach new heights—in the year plus that I’ve been in contact with BTS, they’ve received a major grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, moved to a shiny new office space, and published an outstanding  25th anniversary magazine for Beit T’Shuvah.  That small seed of help that LASVP planted has definitely helped them accelerate their growth.  I’m excited to see how LA Diaper Drive, or Synergy Academies, or any of the other amazing organizations that I’ve had the privilege to get to know, expand and improve in the coming years because of the boost they received from LASVP.

Most importantly, I’m grateful to have met all of the amazing people I’ve connected with through LASVP.  I’ve been continually inspired by our Partners, who give their all—not just their “good enough”—to the causes they believe in.  They’ve inspired me to make social change a priority, not just an extra-curricular activity, no matter what my job title.  They’ve been an example of the power of cooperation and collaboration—LASVP would not work unless people from different backgrounds with different opinions were committed to coming together and working toward a common goal.   They’ve also been friendly, caring, and fun to work with—this is a truly outstanding group of people.

Soon I’ll be settled down in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a location that’s pretty far-flung from L.A., both geographically and culturally.  It will be a new experience, but it’s one that I’m looking forward to—and the progressive and diverse community at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity should be friendly shelter in the midst of the inevitable culture shock.  It’s bittersweet saying goodbye to LASVP.   I’ll miss all the friendly faces I’m leaving behind.  I’ll always look back on my time here fondly—especially when I’m studying for “Readings in Koine Greek” without access to In-n-Out Burger in a climate designated “humid subtropical”—but I’m sure our paths will cross again.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing organization.

Everyone at LASVP would like to thank Jessica for all of her hard work and wish her the best of luck for the future!

Save Water. Use California Native Plants.

July 3, 2012

Patrick LarkinPatrick Larkin is the Executive Director of Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden and represented the organization at the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch. Click here to watch Patrick’s pitch.

After Occupy LA protestors were removed from the premises last year, the landscape at Los Angeles City Hall was quite altered—the grass was dead in large patches and parts of the landscape had been uprooted.  The city knew they needed to start from scratch, but instead of doing the same old thing, they decided to look into installing a landscape that would conserve water, one of L.A.’s most precious resources.

That’s where Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden came in.  The 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch finalist organization offers a diverse set of programs, from educational tours for elementary school classes to employment programs for military veterans readjusting to civilian life.  But as a garden specializing in California native plants, water conservation is something they spend a lot of time thinking about.  “Native plants use 2/3 less water,” says Executive Director Patrick Larkin.

Ellen Sloan, an LASVP Partner and one of Patrick’s Fast Pitch coaches, heard about the opportunity at City Hall and helped connect Patrick with people she knew at the city.  With the help of these connections, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens became involved as advisors for the City Hall landscape work.  “By integrating native plants into your yard, you save water and money,” says Patrick.  The current options being proposed for City Hall all include integrating native plants, the frontrunner being to incorporate more drought-tolerant and California native plants into the north and south lawns while maintaining a smaller grass lawn for public events.  (You can voice your support for a water-conserving landscape here.)

If you want to help your favorite nonprofit start making connections that will help them put their mission into action, encourage them to apply to this year’s Fast Pitch! Applications will be accepted until July 16.  “The Fast Pitch was great,” says Patrick.  “It helped us make connections in the community…and challenged me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before.”

Click here to see what Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden has in store for summer. Click here to learn more about applying to the Social Innovation Fast Pitch.

Partner Q & A: Dina Silver

July 3, 2012

Meet Dina Silver, a former film producer, President of Pegasus Coaching Group, and a founding Partner of LASVP.

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?

Dina: Sue Bunzel, another LASVP Partner, introduced me. Coincidentally, she and I went to the same all-girl school in New York City years ago. She and my husband Steve were on the board of Planned Parenthood LA together. She and I met at an event, and the next thing I knew, I was at the very first gathering of LASVP!

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?

Dina: Probably hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains—away from the city sprawl, ocean spread out below and the scent of eucalyptus wafting through.

Q: What book are you reading right now?

Dina: Just finished re-reading David Copperfield. Dickens makes you laugh aloud. I hadn’t read it for 25 years, and it is more delicious and delightful now. I am now reading Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. This is an extraordinary book, but not for the faint-hearted.

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

Dina: Warren Olney or This American Life, if I have some new shows downloaded.

Q: What is your favorite organization you’ve been introduced to through LASVP?

Dina: I think my very favorite is Food Forward, which I was introduced to at Fast Pitch. Rick Nahmias, who runs the organization, is smart, clever, inspiring and growing an organization that has people truly involved with feeding the hungry. My husband Steve and I have gone on a ‘pick’ and it certainly gives you an appreciation for the work of a migrant laborer.

You can read more about all of our Partners by clicking here.

5 Good Reasons to Come to the Summer Social

July 3, 2012

LASVPLos Angeles Social Venture Partners will be hosting their annual Summer Social on Saturday, July 14th at a Partner’s home in Brentwood. In case you need it, here are 5 pretty darn good reasons to show up…

  1. Everyone in the LASVP community is welcome! Partners, prospects, investees, Fast Pitch alumi, spouses, kids, everyone!
  2. Re-connect! Have you missed some of your LASVP friends or fellow Fast Pitch compadres? Catch up while enjoying the summer sunset.
  3. Networking! You can mix and mingle with a bunch a new faces and maybe make some powerful connections.
  4. Have fun! It’s summer in SoCal. Chill out. Relax.
  5. Celebrate! Experience the joy of making Los Angeles better, together!

Be sure to RSVP for the Summer Social by calling 310.281.7509 or send an email to rsvp (at)