LA Diaper Drive: A Medium for Change for Families in Poverty

March 6, 2013

Los Angeles Diaper DriveLA 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.


Creativity, Compassion, Cardborigami

March 6, 2013

Tina Hovsepian, CardborigamiWe met Tina Hovsepian through the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch where she represented her invention and her nonprofit organization, Cardborigami. To watch Tina’s outstanding pitch, click here.

Tina Hovsepian is a textbook example of a young, passionate social entrepreneur.  She came up with a great idea while she was still an undergraduate studying architecture at USC: a collapsible, portable, recyclable shelter for the homeless.  Born and raised in LA, Tina was used to seeing people sleeping on the streets without shelter from the elements, and knew that she had the skills to provide a solution to this immediate need.  After creating a prototype “Cardborigami” shelter and testing it out on Skid Row, Tina started getting interest from buyers—people who worked with the homeless as well as groups who provided disaster relief.

But getting interest turned out to be the easy part.  Attracting funding, as is the case with many nonprofits, was a challenge.  “LA has a huge population of nonprofits and you have to really stand out from the pack to get the funding you need,” says Tina.  “Fast Pitch helped us create a very strong case for support.” Cardborigami was a finalist at LASVP’s 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and presented in front of over 1100 people.  Her experience at the Fast Pitch turned out to be incredibly useful training for a year packed with presentations and speaking engagements for the young architect, who since the Fast Pitch has presented her idea everywhere from the Pepperdine business school to the Occupy Wall Street encampment to NPR.  Tina says that since the Fast Pitch, “I know how to articulate the Cardborigami concept, and be simple and effective.  It also really helped my public speaking skills.”

In addition to the increased exposure, the Fast Pitch led to several useful connections for Cardborigami.  Tina’s Fast Pitch coaches Richard Hansen and Mark Loranger have stayed in touch, as has Fast Pitch coach and LASVP Partner Nancy Hammerman.  Nancy helped Cardborigami obtain skilled volunteers through the Harvard alumni “Harvard Serves” program, and Mark, the CEO of local homelessness organization Chrysalis, has been a useful connection to the community that Cardborigami aims to serve.  Fast Pitch also led to Cardborigami’s participation in the Annenberg Alchemy program, a major help to the organization as it started to build its board of directors.  “Annenberg Alchemy was a great opportunity that we wouldn’t have even been aware of without Fast Pitch,” says Tina.

Recently, Cardborigami has locked in a local LA-based manufacturer, and with the cost at only about $20 per shelter, it seems that we will see Tina’s invention in use very soon. You can sponsor one here. In addition to being one of the first organizations in the U.S. to receive funding from the pioneering microfinance organization Kiva,  Cardborigami is looking forward to launching with a bang through a City Council sponsored pilot program in Venice Beach.

Tina’s big dream is to use the manufacture of Cardborigami as a tool to help employ the homeless, adding a long-term strategy to this short-term necessity. “We need more compassion for each other to solve this problem,” says Tina. “Even before launching, I think we’ve accomplished something by breaking the typical stereotype of homeless people and telling their story.”

Carborigami is now seeking individuals to join their board recruiting task force. Members of the task force will nominate potential candidates for the Board of Directors and help with reviewing the organization’s bylaws. If you or someone you know is interested to be on Carborigami’s board recruiting task force, contact Tina Hovesepian at

Congratulations LA Business Journal Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Award Winners

August 29, 2012

Ezequiel Olvera, Gumball FoundationWe were proud to see some familiar names pop up in the Los Angeles Business Journal in June. At their annual Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Awards, the Journal honored two of LASVP’s Fast Pitch alumni and one of our past Investees. We were excited to see them honored, but not surprised. Over the years, we’ve come to expect it—the fantastic organizations we have the privilege of working with go on to climb greater heights.

The Organization of the Year award went to Chrysalis, an innovative and impactful organization fighting homelessness. Mark Loranger, who presented on behalf of Chrysalis at our first Fast Pitch event in 2008, was also a coach at the 2011 Fast Pitch program, mentoring finalist Cardborigami. Chrysalis impressed the LA Business Journal with their success in creating pathways to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income people. According to the Journal, “In 2010 alone, Chrysalis Enterprises created over 218,000 hours of employment and generated 2.5 million in wages,” and despite a difficult job market, saw a 15% rise in employment among their clients in 2011.

The award for Outstanding Nonprofit Team went to former LASVP Investee organization TreePeople. The environmental organization’s leadership model “has created a true team approach and a culture focused on ensuring TreePeople’s ongoing success.” Congratulations to all the hard-working staff there, who continue to be dedicated to growing a sustainable future for Los Angeles.

The Social Enterprise Award went to Gumball Foundation, the organization selected as the Audience Favorite at the 2011 Fast Pitch. Their model encourages academic success and increases college access while teaching students valuable entrepreneurial skills—a triple threat that has also been making a splash in the media. Gumball Foundation has recently been featured on NBC and Telemundo, and interest in the young organization continues to grow. Ezequiel Olvera, the founder of the organization, says that his Fast Pitch training has come in handy—most recently when he addressed the audience of 500 at the Journal’s award ceremony at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

Congratulations to all of the Nonprofit and Corporate Citizenship Awards Honorees! We know that they will continue to achieve bigger and better things, and most importantly, keep making positive change in our communities.

Want an early peek at the nonprofits who have the potential to become the “next big thing?” Don’t miss our 5th Annual Social Innovation Fast Pitch on October 24th.

Fast Pitch Storytellers: Rick Nahmias and Food Forward

June 19, 2012

Rick Nahmias of Food ForwardRick Nahmias is the founder of Food Forward and represented the organization at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition. Rick’s great pitch won the $5,000 Innovation and Impact Award and the $1,000 Audience Favorite Award.

The Food Forward model is brilliant in its simplicity. In Southern California, an overabundance of fresh citrus fruit growing on private property goes to waste, while thousands of people go hungry.  Rick Nahmias, the founder of Food Forward, created a fresh solution to this problem: mobilize volunteers to pick fruit and donate it to food cupboards and homeless shelters, where the hungry could have access to it. “It’s a very simple process,” says Rick. “But crazily, it’s very innovative in our world.”

This great idea made a big impression at the 2010 Social Innovation Fast Pitch.  Food Forward took home the award for Innovation & Impact and the Audience Favorite award.  One individual in the audience was so impressed by the pitch that they threw a fundraiser for Food Forward which earned $15,000 for the organization.  Rick’s Fast Pitch coaches were so enamored with Food Forward that they joined its Board of Directors.  Another spectator invited Rick to speak at the TEDx USC conference, where he reached an additional 1,200 people with his innovative idea to feed the hungry.

Rick testifies to the fact that Fast Pitch offers participants more than just a one-time pay-off.  “SVP almost feels like a new extended family,” he says.  Through Fast Pitch, Food Forward has fostered long-term connections with people who really believe in them and are willing to do all they can to help. “Having that expertise very generously offered to us is great,” says Rick.  Food Forward’s win at Fast Pitch has also served as a ‘seal of approval’ that has helped the organization be taken more seriously, resulting in more funding, which turns into much needed resources like harvesting equipment, automobiles, and warehouse space.

Since Food Forward was founded, volunteers have harvested and donated 897,488 pounds of fruit and vegetables.  To balance that scale you’d need about 80 African elephants.  That’s a hefty pile of food, all going to the people who need it most.  “It’s a simple equation,” says Rick.  “Harvesting food, fighting hunger and building community. SVP has helped us do all those things.”

You can find out more about Food Forward by visiting their website or following them on Twitter @foodforwardla.

Partner Q & A: Elliot Sainer

June 19, 2012

Elliot Sainer resize_edited-1Meet Elliot Sainer! Elliot joined LASVP in 2012 and was introduced to us through our Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition. He’s moving from being a great Fast Pitch coach to being a great Partner!

Q: Why did you join SVP?

I admired the work that the organization was doing to promote social entrepreneurship, and having participated as a coach last year in Fast Pitch, I thought my background and experience would enhance SVP, and I as well could learn from others who have been active.

Q: What social issues are you most passionate about?

I have spent my career in education and education service companies, so helping those in need has been a long time part of my life. I also want to get involved with some areas in these two broad fields that I have not been actively engaged in during my professional career. For example, I am a founding board member of USC Hybrid HS, a new charter high school affiliated with USC that is opening in September 2012. We are trying to break the dropout cycle of urban high school youth and the school will open in downtown LA for this inner city population.

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

That would be Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena, which has been focused on reducing the numbers of homeless in Pasadena for many years. They do incredible work through services for the homeless and providing supportive and permanent housing for these clients.

Q: What do you look forward to on the weekends?

I am an avid golfer, so look forward to hitting the links, as golf is a great way to “get away” from daily life issues. I also look forward to skiing with my son, wife, and our 19 month old grandson who all live in Denver, as we usually do this over the weekend.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to social change?

The biggest barrier is the inertia of so many people to look beyond their own lives to the lives of others and see how they can help.

You can read more about all of our Partners here on our website.