December 03, 2020

Fall 2020 Newsletter

Letter From The Executive Director

I can't wait for 2020 to end. I can't overstate how persistent our team has been during this year of face masks, uncertainty, and struggle for racial and economic equity. Like you, I have also struggled with emotional, physical, and mental fatigue. Local fires and social conflagrations turned our communities known for their blue skies into a veritable valley of the ashes.

Even in a world of distance learning, we have the power to promote school success and make a real difference in reducing inequalities with every child in our program with a full-time, professional mentor. It's crucial, during these times, to focus on our own circle of control.

We already knew of the great need, gross inequities, and storms of injustice that started long before the coronavirus and the death of George Floyd changed the world. Sadly, they will still be a part of our lives once the pandemic passes. The substantive changes we all want to see will require focused, sustained effort by us all. I am strengthened by the dint of resilience that our children and families display each and every day — in spite of it all.

I believe we are in a time of major transitions and change--a time of growing pains where we'll struggle to find our footing and emerge much stronger than we were. Right now, we are serving households, some with multiple generations in the home. The challenges are immense but not impossible to overcome.

We have to meet the challenge with intentionality, consistency, discipline, and repeat it over and over again. During this season, as Audre Lorde said, "we have to be diligent and afraid of nothing". We also can't afford to leave the work for someone else. We have to do it, together — 12+ years, no matter what.

Love and light,

Thomas Lee

Friends LA Highlights

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Grisel Vasquez | Friends LA Professional Mentor

Major congratulations are in order for Grisel Vasquez for winning the Friends of the Children Superstar Award! In partnership with the Superstar Foundation, Friends of the Children rewards Friends who use data to improve outcomes for our youth, families, and communities. The Superstar Award was created to acknowledge and reward Friends for their ETO efforts, including tracking activity journals consistently, meeting 12-16 hours per month/per child, completing assessments/reports, and using scorecards to plan outings and reflect on her work with children. Grisel has worked with several non-profits and school districts throughout Los Angeles County for the past 14 years. She started her work in the after school sector and Special Education. She then transitioned to working with at-risk and foster youth by providing mentorship and support services in the South Los Angeles area. In the last two years, Grisel has provided direct training and support to parents and caregivers at two South Los Angeles schools. Grisel attended California State University Dominguez Hills where she studied Sociology. Outside of the office, Grisel enjoys spending quality time with friends and loved ones, helping others, and finding new and interesting things to do or try. Thanks, Grisel for your hard work, persistence, and commitment to all the children you are mentoring.

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Courtney Carter | Friends LA Board Member

Courtney Carter is the founder of Carter Media Group (CMG). CMG represents and partners with people and ideas; building inclusive, innovative, disruptive, and story-driven businesses and brands. Carter serves as manager and production partner to creator sensation Liza Koshy; culinary creative collective Ghetto Gastro; strategist, producer, and former Obama White House advisor Carri Twigg; commentator, journalist, and musician Selema Masekela; and comedian and writer Matt Bellassai. Carter has multiple scripted and non-scripted projects in development with her clients; including serving as an active Executive Producer for all seasons of LIZA ON DEMAND, YouTube Original's most successful show to date.

Previously, Carter served as an Agent in Digital Talent/Packaging and Brand Partnerships at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). There, she worked to package and sell multiple shows across television and digital. Prior to CAA, Courtney worked as the Director of Sports Management and Branded Content at ESPN, garnering multiple awards for her precedent ideation and execution of integrated marketing solutions and creative work in the advertising and branded content spaces for ESPN. She began her career in partnership and media sales, working for Madison Square Garden and Major League Soccer before joining CAA.

Carter is currently an active board member of multiple organizations, including Friends of the Children LA, Los Angeles Galaxy Foundation, and Women In Sports and Events. This year, she also founded non-profit Ally2Action; the organization aims to stimulate a world where deep compassion drives collective action. Its current mission at hand is to accelerate racial reconciliation through creating and building opportunities and experiences that enlighten and transform fear of participation into courageous engagement and conversation.


Top rated performing arts school, White Hall Arts Academy is continuing to break barriers for its performing arts students with the recent announcement of a partnership with leading audio software technology company, Izotope, to build a music production and learning computer lab at its South Los Angeles headquarters. After receiving a $25,000 grant from The Lewis Prize for Music fund in June, White Hall Arts Academy also committed to paying it forward in a collaboration with Friends LA. The program will provide $10,000 worth of instruction in voice, instrumentation and stage performance. WHAA will also be able to make referrals to Friends LA enrollment in their long-term mentorship program for systemically disadvantaged youth.


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Our Two-Generation Approach

One of our parents, Mary, recently enrolled in our Antelope Valley program with her five-year-old son, Mateo. Mateo is one of four children, and Mary is pregnant with her fifth. Mary expressed concerns that her son’s ADHD and inability to sit still would impact online learning. Due to COVID-19, all interactions with the family took place through phone and video chats. During those initial meetings, Mary and the Antelope Valley team discussed behavior, environment, and Mateo’s strengths. Mary wanted Friends LA to provide him with a role model to create a sense of grit for her son.

Despite experiencing the Friends LA program only through virtual interaction, Mary’s jumped all in. She continually communicates with their Friend and makes the program a top priority for her son. This includes setting meetings up in the early morning – whatever it takes. On top of raising her children, Mary is also in school for her Psychology degree. She and her Friend have been prioritizing nutrition in the household – limiting sugary foods and beverages while promoting healthful foods. Mary always has a positive outlook and her willingness to work with their Friend has prompted an open, giving relationship between the Friend and Mateo, as well. We look forward to seeing Mateo’s growth over the next twelve years!

School Success in the Era of Distance Learning

Distance learning was a novelty last Spring when schools began to close. We all wanted to do our level-best at keeping children safe from the potential spread of the coronavirus. But as the months wore on, it was evident that many, if not all our children, would be negatively impacted by a confluence of factors: the digital divide, social isolation, absence of structured learning, and prospect of our children falling behind.

Parents with small children will testify that distance learning is hard. Harder now than before. Our children and our parents are working hard to manage the daily schedule of logging into class daily and completing class assignments for one or more children. Friends LA doubled-down on promoting school success in every session held with youth. Our Ambassador Board, Junior League of Los Angeles, and Jumpman LA donated summer school packs, learning supplies, and backpacks to keep our youth inspired and motivated to learn.

Aside from making sure children received laptops and tablets from their local school district, we purchased iPads and learning software to support growth in reading, language arts, and mathematics. We added IXL and Accelerated Reader to enable personalized learning and with the help of our Friends at a pace that works well for youth. Both platforms align with California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) and are integrated with the real-time diagnostics to uncover insights that truly make data-driven educational support possible.