Fast Pitch Success: Get on the Bus

June 6, 2013

Get On The Bus Mom and DaughterWhen asked how she became involved with Get on the Bus, community outreach director Karen Van de Laat half-jokes, “I basically called and informed them that I would be taking the job.”  She had seen a Craigslist ad for the position at Get on the Bus, and knew it was exactly what she wanted to be doing.  “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still keep doing this job.”

Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award at LASVP’s 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch for Get on the Bus, a program that gives kids and their guardians rides to see their mothers and fathers in prison.  Parents in prison are often hundreds of miles away from their families, so the distance and expense makes the trip impossible for many children.  “As a mother, I just can’t imagine being separated from my child like that,” says Karen.  Prisons have noted the improved behavior and decreased recidivism in inmates who have visits with their children. While Get on the Bus has historically only been able to provide trips on Mother’s and Father’s Day, the success of the program is leading to additional trips.

Get on the Bus Logo“We have raised much more money than we did the previous year—this is definitely because of Fast Pitch,” says Karen.  She used to “wing it” when speaking to potential donors, and would often forget to mention important points and kick herself for it later.  The Fast Pitch helped her get her “best of the best” message down pat, and now she is able to adjust her pitch based on her audience and how much time she has to speak.  “Now we know how to talk to a whole different audience,” says Karen, who used to restrict most of her outreach to churches.  “That’s a major change for Get on the Bus.”

After the 2011 Fast Pitch, Get on the Bus received a $10,000 donation, “and the money kept showing up,” says Karen, in addition to more media attention than the organization had ever received in one year.  “The Fast Pitch has really helped us raise awareness, in addition to money and volunteers,” Karen says.  “And that’s the most important thing to us.”

GetOntheBusKaren Van de Laat (pictured at left) is the Community Outreach Director at Get on the Bus. As a participant of the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, Karen won the $5,000 coaches’ award.  Click here to watch Karen’s 2011 Fast Pitch.

For more information about the 2013 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, click here or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.


Partner Q & A: Robin Salter

March 6, 2013

Robin Salter, LASVP PartnerRobin Salter is a senior consultant at Concentric Consulting Services. Robin joined LASVP in 2012 and we’re so excited to have her on our team! 

Q: How were you introduced to LASVP?
Robin: Diane Helfrey and I met through a mutual friend who had organized an “LA Salon” which was designed to draw like-minded people together into a fun, casual and intellectual discussion about a range of topics. That group no longer exists (or if it does, I am no longer involved!) but the beauty of it for me was that I got to meet Diane and be introduced to LASVP. I asked if I could be involved as a coach, since that is what I do for a living. “Time to give back!” I thought, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally and professionally.

Q: What is your favorite place in LA?
Robin: Palisades Park, between Alta and Palisades Avenues.

Q: What project are you working on with LASVP? Why did you choose to get involved this way?
Robin: Currently, I am on the Education Investment Committee and am organizing the Social Innovation Fast Pitch Alumni Program. This is a great opportunity for me to invest both time and effort in helping those who have been involved with our organization to remain involved, to learn about other ways in which LASVP can continue to help and support them, and also to create an ongoing forum in which these organizations, many of them fledgling, can learn from and support one another.

Q: What book are you reading right now?
Robin: I always have four or five books on the go at the same time. Currently, my list includes: Mantissa (John Fowles,) Finn (Jon Clinch,) You Are Here (Thich Nhat Hanh,) Rock Springs (Richard Ford,) Fortune’s Children (Arthur T. Vanderbilt II,) and The Cloister Walk (Kathleen Norris).

Q: What social issue are you most passionate about?
Robin: As a teacher, administrator and educational coach/consultant, I believe that Early Childhood experiences are key to the outcomes demonstrated in society as a whole. I know that children who are born into poverty, those whose families are affected by illness including drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness, children who grow up without loving and kind parents and role models, and others who endure adverse experiences in childhood are likely to face enormous emotional, intellectual, educational and even physical challenges later in life. Without the foundation of healthy early life, our community as a whole suffers damage. As Thomas Reid once said: we are only as strong as our weakest link. I believe that our energy and attention should be focused in great part on ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to start life in the best way possible.

Q: Who is your hero?
Robin: Victor Hugo. As a writer, I aspire to develop a fraction of the dedication he displayed to his work ethic. (After his exile to the Channel Islands off the coast of England, he used to stand at a podium to write, facing the window which overlooked the sea, and set a minimum of 4 hours at a stretch.) Hugo was a poet and writer of novels whose message of freedom from tyranny was clear and effective. I see him as one of the world’s iconic champions of social justice.

You can learn more about our Partners here on our website.

Congratulations to Synergy Academies

December 4, 2012

synergy-academiesSynergy 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.

Investing in Potential: LA Diaper Drive

October 5, 2012

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. 

Since it was founded in 2005, LA Diaper Drive has been run out of Caroline Kunitz’s home, and the family’s two-car garage was the only storage space they had.  This was never the most convenient set up, but Caroline was willing to do what she had to in order to help mothers in need.

Caroline says that one of the most memorable days she has had at LA Diaper Drive is the first time a donation of 100,000 diapers showed up at her doorstep.  “At that point, we hadn’t even given away that many diapers,” says Caroline, much less tried to store that many all at once.  With no volunteers on hand, Caroline, her housekeeper, and the truck driver teamed up to haul all 100,000 diapers up the steep driveway and stack them up in the garage.  “We tried putting them in strollers and rolling them up the hill,” Caroline remembers with a chuckle.

Despite the space limitations, LA Diaper Drive has given away over 4 million diapers.  Thanks to a connection from LASVP, they look forward to giving away many more in the future.  LASVP helped LA Diaper Drive locate a donated warehouse space with a professional loading dock and staff, which will allow them to accept many more donations.  Before gaining the warehouse space, the organization was forced to turn big donations away.  Thanks to the connection from LASVP, LA Diaper Drive can finally unleash its full potential.

You too can aid this amazing work by donating to LA Diaper Drive through their website. Thanks to connections they have made with the larger community, LA Diaper Drive receives a 75% discount on diapers they purchase. $218 can keep a child properly diapered for a year, and $918 provides a full year of service to both the parent and child.

Why It Matters: LA Diaper Drive

August 28, 2012

Los Angeles Diaper DriveLASVP learned about LA Diaper Drive through the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch program. Caroline Kunitz pitched on behalf of the organization and LA Diaper Drive won th $20,000 Judges’ Award and the $20,000 LASVP Investee Award. Click here to watch Caroline’s awesome pitch!

When you hear about LA Diaper Drive, the first thing that comes to mind is babies. But when LASVP learned about the way that LA Diaper Drive operates, we realized that a diaper can be the key to helping an entire family.

Veronica* was in 6th grade when a teacher found out that she had been cutting herself. The school intervened to try and offer her the help she needed. They provided Veronica with counseling services, but they really needed to reach her mother as well. A busy woman taking care of several other small children, the school reached out to her by offering diapers donated by LA Diaper Drive as an incentive to attend family counseling. The much needed diapers got Veronica’s mother in the door, and she and her daughter began attending counseling regularly. Soon Veronica was able to overcome her self-destructive behavior, and began to thrive academically.

This is why LASVP loves LA Diaper Drive. Their partnerships with other organizations mean that every diaper donated has a dual purpose—to meet an immediate need for children in poverty, and to act as a tool to create lasting change. We’ve invested in their commitment to families in need by helping to secure warehouse space for the donations, collborating on their annual plan, and helping to prepare their annual budget. By helping our Investee to build its capacity as an organization, we’re unleashing their potential to have a wider and deeper impact on Los Angeles.

* Name changed

You too can aid this amazing work by donating to LA Diaper Drive through their website. Thanks to connections they have made with the larger community, LA Diaper Drive receives a 75% discount on diapers they purchase. $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.

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!