Social Venture Partners is excited to announce that our two new Advisees for 2013-2014 are:
- Promesa Boyle Heights lead by Proyecto Pastoral
- South Los Angeles Child Welfare Initiative lead by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center
An SVP Investee since late 2009, GrowingGreat’s mission is to inspire children and adults to adopt healthy eating habits through innovative classroom nutrition lessons, school gardens and community events. Here’s what Lead Partner Lance Tendler had to say about working with GrowingGreat.
Q: What attracted you to volunteering with GrowingGreat?
Lance: I was a coach for the 2009 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and GrowingGreat was one of the organizations participating. Co-founder Peggy Curry was representing GG. Her energy is very infectious and I was quickly won over by her presence, and her passion for the cause of nutrition education and inspiring healthy eating habits. LASVP Partner Steve Raymond was guiding GrowingGreat through the process of applying to be an Investee of LASVP, and was looking for a co-lead Partner, and I quickly agreed. GrowingGreat’s work is universal – it’s a cause that is relevant to all of us regardless of economic status, race, or creed.
Q: Where do you think LASVP Partners have added the most value to GrowingGreat?
Lance: The Board of GrowingGreat is small but competent, and the organization had a history of relative success prior to allying with LASVP. Early on Steve led a technology initiative relative to rebuilding the GG website, and the migration to a web delivery model for GrowingGreat’s classroom content and teaching plan. But generally, I would say that the greatest value came at a high level such as strategic planning, governance and board development, which is helping them evolve from a very volunteer-based organization to one with experienced professional staff. LASVP helped facilitate an intensive strategic planning initiative, and LASVP sponsored GrowingGreat’s participation in the Annenberg Alchemy program which focuses on Board Governance and best practices.
Q: What’s next for GrowingGreat?
Lance: The organization is making an important transition in terms of service delivery. Initially a lot of the food handling, documentation delivery, teaching and instruction was organized and provided directly by GrowingGreat volunteers and staff. The classroom lessons and content are loaded onto the site now, which creates an opportunity to deliver GrowingGreat value to a significantly larger footprint. By emphasizing the content, and phasing out the physical delivery, GrowingGreat really becomes a national force.
Synergy Academies is a charter school system that reaches 1,200 K-12 students in South LA. Inspired by their amazing work, LASVP Partners have put their time and talent behind the organization, giving almost 500 hours of strategic assistance since our initial investment in 2010.
Energy, passion, and love of education. Founding LASVP Partner Candy Deemer brings all of this to her role as Co-Lead Partner with Synergy Academies. As a writer and executive coach with years of marketing and management experience, Candy can add fun, creativity, and keen insight to any conversation. Together with her Co-Lead Partner, Richard Landers, Candy has led the way for SVP to help Synergy Academies make the most of their communications.
Candy learned about Synergy by participating in meetings for LASVP’s grant rounds where she was impressed with the level of success Synergy had and their high standards of excellence. Using the knowledge she gained through volunteering with our former Investee Bright Star Schools, Candy was prepared to jump in and take the lead. As Co-Lead Partner, Candy acts as a liaison between SVP Partners and the Synergy leadership team.
She has developed tremendous respect for Synergy Co-Founders Meg and Randy Palisoc, and can attest that “they are wonderful people who work very, very hard for their students. They aren’t afraid to tackle any problem.” With LASVP’s passion for improving education in Los Angeles and Synergy’s entrepreneurial spirit, our investments of money, time, and talent have paid off. “It’s a really strong two-way working relationship,” Candy says. “Synergy is interested to have LASVP’s help and our partners have the skills to assist them with their goals.”
Throughout our time supporting Synergy Academies, SVP Partners have provided strategic assistance with board development, financial planning, organizational strategy, marketing and branding, IT infrastructure, and executive coaching. Candy has coordinated and managed the various projects and matched fellow Partners who have the skills needed to accomplish a project’s goals. Through Candy’s leadership, SVP Partners assisted Synergy as they have grown and expanded from grade school classes in a local church to having elementary, middle, and high schools, all of which are co-located with traditional LAUSD schools.
So what’s been Candy’s most rewarding experience with Synergy? “Seeing how they have come along in the way they present themselves.” From branding and identity, to executive coaching, to building presentations, Candy has loved the “fun and creative” aspects of assisting Synergy. “They weren’t getting the full bang for their buck [with their communications] when we first started with them,” she says. But now, the way they present themselves through their Trade Secrets Tours and presentations “does a great job of showing how Synergy achieves such extraordinary academic results. People get it now and they get excited about it.” Synergy’s effort to share their success with other educators is gaining traction and teachers are traveling from other states to take the tour and meet their teachers.
Overall, Candy believes that SVP Partners added the greatest value by helping Synergy “think through their strategy as an organization–how to lead a growing organization, how they present themselves to the world, and thinking about what’s next in terms of ‘sharing out’ their best practices with other schools.”
To find out more about becoming an SVP Partner, click here.
LA Diaper Drive is the second largest diaper bank in the country, and has the unique position of being the only diaper bank using diapers as an incentive for attending GED prep and life skills classes. LASVP connected with LA Diaper Drive through the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and the organization is now one of our investees. You can watch Caroline Kunitz’s prize winning pitch for LA Diaper Drive here.
LA Diaper Drive provides diapers to families that can’t afford them. If that was all they did, they’d be providing a wonderful service to communities in need. But the organization does more than that. Their strategy for distributing diapers helps families across Los Angeles find ways out of poverty. That strategy is what got LASVP’s attention, and it’s a big part of why we chose to invest in the organization.
LA Diaper Drive donates diapers to established nonprofits, and those organizations use the free diapers as an incentive to get parents into programs, classes, and workshops that will help them learn how to be better parents and improve the lives of their family. Take, for example, Anna and David*, participants in LAUSD’s Homeless Education Program. In high school Anna became pregnant, and her parents kicked her out of the house. After their baby was born, she and her boyfriend David did all they could to keep up their education by taking turns going to school. Eventually this became too difficult and they stopped going altogether. The Homeless Education Program intervened, helping them find a more flexible school and offering diapers from LA Diaper Drive as an incentive to keep going to class.
Anna and David started going to school regularly. They got help from some other programs, too, including a “Christmas adoption” program through which another family gave them presents for the holidays. The young couple eventually graduated from high school, found work, and made their way out of homelessness. They even became strong enough as a family to give back to the organizations that had helped them—after graduation, they became Christmas adoption sponsors themselves, providing presents for a family that was in the situation they were once in.
This kind of life-changing result is what inspires LASVP to support LA Diaper Drive. A diaper may be a small thing, but, as Board Chair Caroline Kunitz tells us, “a diaper can help you move forward or keep you down.” By meeting this fundamental need in a creative way, LA Diaper Drive is helping to change lives.
*Names have been changed
You too can aid this amazing work by making a financial or in-kind contribution to LA Diaper Drive through their website. Thanks to connections they have made with generous suppliers, LA Diaper Drive receives free or deeply discounted diapers. $1000 given to LA Diaper Drive can keep 29 babies in diapers and 29 parents in classes for an entire year. That works out to be less than $35 for an entire year’s worth of service to a family.
Inspired by their amazing work in South LA, LASVP Partners have put their time and talent behind Synergy Academies. Since our initial investment in 2010, LASVP Partners have given over 465 hours of strategic assistance to Synergy in areas such as executive coaching, IT infrastructure, financial planning, and board development.
What makes Synergy Academies’ outstanding academic results even more impressive is that most students arrive at Synergy underprepared. According to Synergy Co-Founder and CEO Meg Palisoc, “Almost 100% of our kindergarten students every year [begin by performing below the standards] in everything. They’re already behind at age 5…they don’t know their letters, numbers, shapes and colors in English or Spanish.”
It’s impossible to point to a single cause for the achievement gap between middle-class white students and low-income African-American and Latino students; there are a myriad of socioeconomic factors at play that lead to inequalities in school preparedness. While some may believe that parental apathy is to blame, Meg says that most Synergy parents want to do all they can to help their children succeed, but suffer from a lack of useful information. “There needs to be more out there to help educate parents in our community…they’re really crying out for help.”
A concerned mother of one underprepared kindergartner asked Meg, “Is this a problem, that my child doesn’t know these things?”
According to Meg, “I told her, ‘At your child’s age, she should be capable of knowing [letters and numbers]…don’t worry, that’s why we’re here; we’re going to work together with you.’ I didn’t want to make her feel bad, but I also wanted to educate her about her child’s developmental capabilities. When I asked if her child had gone to Preschool, she said yes, she had been going since she was 2 or 3. She had even asked the Preschool teacher if she, as a mother, should be teaching her child letters and numbers and colors. The teacher said, ‘No, that’s a kindergarten standard, let the kindergarten teacher do that.’”
The mother didn’t question this bad advice. After all, it came from a person in a position of authority; a person who she logically assumed had more knowledge than she did about how a child should be educated. “Obviously her child struggled,” says Meg, but the dedicated and caring teachers at Synergy helped the student catch up. They accomplished this with the indispensable support of the child’s mother, who, armed with advice from Meg, was now aware of what she could do to help.
You can learn more about Synergy Academies’ recipe for success by joining one of their upcoming Synergy Trade Secrets Tours. If you want to help Synergy’s work to help students and families thrive, you can register your credit cards and grocery club cards (Ralph’s Club Card, Target REDCard, etc.) so that a portion of your purchase will be donated to Synergy or make a donation.
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 late 2009.
GrowingGreat has a new team, which is bringing fresh energy to take the organization to the next level. Executive Director, Burgandie Onekea officially started at the end of May, and has been driving positive change to advance the mission of GrowingGreat. Burgandie is a seasoned, skilled, and accomplished nonprofit Executive leader who has dedicated her career to improving the health and lives of the people and their communities for over 15 years. Burgandie expressed: “It is a privilege and joy to work for an organization whose mission focuses on education, driving change in behavior in children & adults as we inspire healthy eating habits. We have a dedicated team of staff and volunteers who are passionate about nutrition and prevention, educating our youth and adults to join us in making a true difference in our communities through our mission, and decreasing the risk of obesity and disease.”
Burgandie is originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, and has a personal passion for healthy living and the mission of GrowingGreat. She is happily married with two children and enjoys sharing her life and faith, and making a difference in the lives she has the privilege to touch.
GrowingGreat also welcomes Jill Coons, Program Manager who joins GrowingGreat’s staff after serving as a longtime volunteer and contributor. Jill is a strong businesswoman with a extensive background in Event and Program Management. She is skilled in sustainable gardens, nutrition, and volunteer management. Jill is a graduate of the University of Arizona with experience in Agriculture and an emphasis in Landscape Architecture. She is a dedicated wife and mother who loves spending her free time with her husband, David, and her three wonderful sons. As the very first volunteer for GrowingGreat, Jill has dedicated herself to the GrowingGreat mission for over 9 years and now she has transitioned to a lead staff management role as the new Program Manager. Jill’s passion, experience, and expertise allowed for a seamless transition and we foresee a stronger Program Department as she continues to further expand GrowingGreat’s outreach.
Last, but certainly not least, Kristy Gump, Community Development Manager, focuses on developing stronger partnerships throughout the community. As a part of her role, she will be building a Development Department with emphasis on income development, marketing and communications. Kristy joined GrowingGreat in January and is passionate about the GrowingGreat mission. She is originally from a small town in the Sierra foothills and moved to Los Angeles to attend Loyola Marymount University, graduating with a B.A. in English. She worked with the Long Beach Opera and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in development and administrative capacities, before shifting her focus to education and her true passion – nutrition and healthy living. She also held fundraising and management positions with The Oaks School in Hollywood and New City Public Schools in Long Beach. While at New City, Kristy helped manage the creation of the New City School Farm – one of her most valued accomplishments. She loves to cook for her husband, garden on her little patio, and shop at the local farmer’s market over the weekend.
To learn more about GrowingGreat’s mission and accomplishments, visit their website at www.growinggreat.org.
Synergy Academies has been an LASVP Investee since 2010. With the opening of their high school, Synergy Quantum Academy, in 2011, Synergy Academies now reaches 1,200 K-12 students in South LA.
At Synergy Academies the values of hardwork, encouragement, and accomplishment are just some of the ways the staff and student “scholars” are creating an equal opportunity learning experience in South Los Angeles. As a charter school, Synergy accepts all types of students with a range of abilities and learning backgrounds who come from impoverished and underdeveloped inner-city areas. The Synergy student body is predominately composed of African American, Hispanic, and Latino students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Historically, these students would have found themselves in a school that was performing significantly lower than their counterparts in affluent communities. Despite the struggles these scholars face, “The Synergy Creed” brings the learning community together.
The Synergy Creed:
At Synergy, we’re all in this together because together we are better.
We bring out the best in each other and in ourselves, every day in every way.
~Randy Palisoc, Co-Founder
Synergy Academies had another outstanding year of academic achievement. The California Department of Education recently released the 2012 Academic Performance Index (API) Reports, which are used as part of a school’s accountability progress reporting to determine whether a school is meeting performance standards. The target for all schools in California is a score of 800.
This year, Synergy Charter Academy (Elementary School) achieved a chart-topping 934 and remains one of the highest performing schools in Los Angeles. Schools with similar demographics also made progress toward the 800 benchmark, but are still performing in the low to mid-700 range, with some schools in area performing close to 650. Synergy Kinetic Academy (Middle School) met their school wide target scoring 805 and is out performing schools with similar demographics by approximately 50-70 points.
Over the last three years, LASVP Partners have provided support to Synergy through strategic planning, branding, marketing, IT, financial planning, executive coaching, and funding. And we’re seeing a great return on the investments of time, talent, and money that we have invested.
Congratulations to everyone at Synergy Academies for not only another outstanding year of academic achievement, but also for keeping their commitment to creating stronger schools, stronger students, and a stronger community.
If you would like to support Synergy Academies, you can connect a STEM field professional with the school who can speak to the students about their job experience, register your credit cards and grocery club cards (Ralph’s Club Card, Target REDCard, etc.) so that a portion of your purchase will be donated to Synergy or make a donation.