Four Los Angeles-area non-profit organizations will be able to further advance their work thanks to financial support received from a class of 24 undergraduate students who enrolled in UCLA's inaugural "Philanthropy as Civic Engagement" course.
With funding provided by the Texas-based Once Upon a Time Foundation, the students were responsible for allocating a total of $100,000. (Read more about the class). After 10 weeks of learning about philanthropy, the role of non-profit organizations, as well as the grant-writing process and a host of other skills, the students announced their final decisions yesterday.
Representatives from P.S. Arts, Pacoima Beautiful, the Little Tokyo Service Center and the Ocean Park Community Center joined the students, along with their instructor Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, and their course facilitators, for an end-of-class reception at the UCLA Faculty Center.
For the students, the course wasn’t all about getting a passing grade or working toward their degree requirements. It was also about making a real difference and using their classroom learning in a real-world context. For the organizations it was about helping to mold tomorrow’s leaders and help them understand the importance of giving, as well as the work that non-profit organizations do to assist some of Los Angeles’ most vulnerable people and communities.
The students worked in small groups to evaluate the organizations and their needs. "As a board, we decided to support a program that uses art as a vehicle to empower individuals and transform communities," said student Aviva Kraus. Her group chose to support P.S. Arts, which works to improve children's lives through arts education. The organization, which serves 12,000 students in 26 Los Angeles public schools each academic year, received a grant of $30,000 to support the development and implementation of an innovative arts curriculum designed to foster an inclusive learning environment for students with and without special needs.
"There are still hundreds of children in LAUSD who have no interaction with non-disabled peers during the day, so our aspiration is to really do a good job of inclusion so that it is a safe and peaceful and joyful and inspiring experience for parents and kids all the way across the system,” said Kristen Greer-Paglia, executive director of education and programs at P.S. Arts and a UCLA alumna.
Representatives from Pacoima Beautiful were pleased to receive a grant of $30,000 to support their Summer Youth Institute, a program that aims to inspire young environmentalists, ages 12 -15, to become future community leaders. The program recruits close to 100 kids each summer, said Imelda Padilla, the program’s lead community organizer.
"The work that they do is so much more than environmental sustainability, in the sense that you would first think of," said student Sebastian Milla, whose group presented a $30,000 check to Pacoima Beautiful. "They’re not just thinking about the environment……but also where you live, the people that you live around; that’s also your environment. You also have to make sure that lasts, that that’s sustainability as well."
Youth program coordinator Osbaldo Robles spoke about how the summer institute gets youth thinking about environmental justice in terms that go beyond the importance of picking up trash or planting trees. "It’s more than that," he said. "It’s the air they breathe, it’s the community they live in, it’s the school they attend, it’s the local market they go to – or lack thereof - in their neighborhood."
Little Tokyo Service Center executive director Dean Matsubayashi said that he truly appreciated the efforts of the students and of UCLA for involving his organization in the process. His group was awarded $20,000 to support the Casa Heiwa and Angelina Apartments Mentorship Program, which helps youth achieve higher academic goals with after-school tutoring, mentorship, counseling, and a variety of enrichment activities, including computer lessons, arts and crafts, creative projects and sports competitions.
"This has been the most interesting fundraising experience I have ever gone through in my career," said Matsubayashi. "What we were very impressed with was that it wasn’t just a class assignment or a report… it was really impressive to see...the critical thinking, the conceptual skills, the connecting the dots and the genuine interest for the type of work we’re doing."
UCLA alumna Chris Miller, associate director of the Ocean Park Community Center, said that the $20,000 grant that she and her colleagues received will go a long way to support homeless and mentally ill individuals in Santa Monica. "I really want to express our deep appreciation for this award," she said. "It’s going to help provide mental health services for them, as well as basic living support services through a special program called Shwashlock."
Shwashlock provides showers, laundry services and lockers for people to store personal items while they are at work or until they can find more stable housing. The program, which is the only one of its kind in Santa Monica, aims to help the homeless by helping them overcome some of the barriers that may prevent them from securing employment and housing.