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.


Partner Q & A: Marta Gazzera Ferro

February 6, 2013

LASVP Partner, Marta Gazzera FerroMarta Gazzera Ferro is President of Starfish Impact and has been an LASVP Partner since 2010. Not only does Marta serve on LASVP’s Board of Directors, she also co-leads the Recruiting Team.  

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

Marta: The people—I have really enjoyed meeting other Partners over the years, and building friendships and collaborative working relationships with people who I may not have met otherwise.  The group is likeminded in valuing the philanthropic mission of LASVP, but also quite diverse which makes for very interesting, stimulating and engaged conversations.

Q: What inspires you to make a difference?

Marta: Many things inspire me to make a difference, but some early and lifelong inspirations are my parents and my early teachers. Here is an excerpt from a newsletter that I wrote over 3 years ago summarizing this inspiration:

My life and therefore my work have been largely inspired by both of my parents. My mother is a child development expert and lifelong educator who taught children, teachers and parents, led progressive schools, and founded a charter school. In her “retirement” she voraciously writes children’s books with a diversity theme woven throughout and works with parents and teachers through seminars and one-on-one counseling. My father worked with gangs for over ten years eventually leading the New York City Youth Board. He was the Northeast Regional Director of the Community Action Program in the Office of Economic Opportunity (War on Poverty), the Executive Director of the New York State Division of Human Rights, and then the Associate Chief of the Children’s Bureau, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. In all of these roles he made a sweeping impact on underserved youth and through his work at the Children’s Bureau he affected millions of children through the child welfare legislation and laws that he wrote and championed including ones focused on child abuse and neglect, foster care, and adoption.

I have also been greatly inspired by my first school – Green Acres in Rockville, Maryland – and the teachers who taught me there. I attended from first through eighth grade and went on to an excellent high school, college and graduate school, but it is my formative years at Green Acres that most impacted who I am today. My mother came to Green Acres as the lower school head when I was in second grade, so we share our roots in this special community.

I just went back for my 25th reunion and the school’s 75th Anniversary this past weekend and was able to connect with former classmates and teachers who also traveled to the DC area to celebrate together. In speaking to my 7th & 8th grade homeroom and social studies teacher, Hal Lederman, I remembered that I wrote about his hands-on entrepreneurial lessons we enthusiastically participated in for one of my business school essays. His “Popcorn Game” in which I was chosen, after interviewing for the job, as one of a few entrepreneurs who ran my own popcorn selling business for a week (hiring and managing a team of employees) and the “Stock Market Game” in which we competed as teams against high school students across the country to achieve the greatest return (doing quite well!), helped to inspire my business school decision. Another crucial reason behind why I have chosen my career path is the sense of community that was instilled at the school every day and the community service work and social justice philosophy that permeated the curriculum and culture at the school.

Q: What book are you reading right now?

Marta: I have read several books in the past month that I can highly recommend:

I just finished a book last night and I am about to start reading Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer.

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

Marta: Spending time with my family—my son and husband—and friends, and other family members when they are close.

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

Marta: C5LA (www.c5la.org).  The program has been in LA for 13 years and 100% of the students graduate from high school and over 95% matriculate to college.  C5’s program is a 5-year, year-round, intentionally-designed, outcomes-oriented youth leadership development, college prep and community service and advocacy program for underserved youth in the LA community.  The average student comes from a family of 5 with $21,000 in annual income and the students thrive with the supports and opportunities provided by C5.  I have been involved for 8 years and would be happy to speak to anyone interested in hearing more about C5!


Synergy Academies: Empowering Parents to Help Close the Gap

February 6, 2013

Synergy AcademiesInspired 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.


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.


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!


Honoring Elegant Design: LA Diaper Drive

June 6, 2012

Caroline Kunitz is the leader and co-founder of LA Diaper Drive. She presented on behalf of the organization at the 2011 Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition and won the $20,000 Judges’ Award and the $20,000 LASVP Investee Award. Pictured Clockwise from Top-Right are: Caroline Kunitz, Elyssa Elbaz (LASVP co-lead Partner for LADD), Donella Wilson (LASVP co-lead Partner for LADD), and Diane Helfrey (LASVP Executive Director).

Caroline Kunitz is a cheerful, energetic, and dedicated mother of two who saw others in need and decided to take action. Over the last seven years, Caroline and the team of volunteers at LA Diaper Drive have created the second largest diaper bank in the country and the only one that uses diapers as an incentive to get low-income parents into life-improving classes.  And on May 18th, Caroline was recognized by The C.H.I.P.S. (The Colleagues Helpers in Philanthropic Services) for her dedication and service to children and families in need.

In a letter from The C.H.I.P.S. president, Cara Leonetti Esposito, Caroline was informed that each year The C.H.I.P.S. honors an individual who “exemplifies the dedication and sheer determination to assist children and families in distress.” She went on to say that Caroline “epitomize[s] the very best qualities of an individual who assists communities which manifest a deep need, often for services and products that we take for granted.” And Caroline herself says that she once took diapers for granted until she learned that one-third of all mothers in LA are struggling to provide diapers for their babies. “I had everything going for me as a mom.  I had a supportive husband, was financially stable, had taken every class and read every book, and being a mom was still the hardest thing I had ever done. I couldn’t imagine also having to worry about if I was going to feed my baby dinner or put a diaper on her. I couldn’t imagine doing all this [parenting] work and having these concerns on top of it.”

Caroline’s dedication to creating change in the lives of low-income families was honored at The C.H.I.P.S. annual spring luncheon featuring the Michael Kors Fall 2012 Fashion Show benefitting the Children’s Institute, Inc. at The Montage in Beverly Hills. While Michael Kors is known for creating minimal, sporty, and elegant designs, the elegant design of LA Diaper Drive comes from its simplicity.  Caroline says, “All I have to do is get diapers and pass them on. I just need to get the diapers. The [life skills] classes are already there.” Success for Caroline and LA Diaper Drive means, “Getting diapers to kids and getting parents to the classes they need and really want to go to.” Caroline says that some of these parents are working two jobs and using the diapers as an incentive is the extra push that gets them into the classes they want. “They’re good parents who want to be better parents.”

Caroline ended her acceptance speech saying, “On behalf of tushies across Los Angeles, thank you for all that you do for low-income families in this city.” Well, on behalf of the future of families in Los Angeles, thank you, Caroline.

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.

If you would like to get involved in LASVP’s efforts to help LA Diaper Drive get to the next level, contact Sarah at sarah.hill@lasvp.org.  Another fun way to help is to attend LA Diaper Drive’s 1st Annual Poker Tournament on June 16.


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 www.getonthebus.us. On their website, you can also learn about getting involved as a sponsor or volunteer.