If you've ever stood on the second floor of the Los Angeles Central Public Library and marveled at the explosion of color within the rotunda or the 12 adjacent murals depicting California history, then you have the Los Angeles Conservancy to thank. When the library was scheduled for demolition in the mid-1970s, concerned citizens formed the Conservancy to save the rotunda, the exterior limestone sculptures, and the library's many other architectural treasures. The group finally convinced the City Council to preserve the library in 1983, after years of public discussion, debate, and book-sniffing sit-ins. Ever since, it has advocated for greater Los Angeles's historic sites and educated people about the city's architectural heritage. The Conservancy is responsible for saving and revitalizing landmarks such as the former Cathedral of St. Vibiana, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, and the world’s oldest remaining McDonald’s restaurant.
To accomplish its mission, the membership-based nonprofit offers a number of ways people can experience these beautiful and storied places. The Last Remaining Seats series earned a Reader Recommendation for Best Film Series and Best Downtown Event in the Los Angeles Downtown News' 2012 poll, in which the conservancy’s walking tours also earned the title of Best Downtown Tour. But the organization does more than save grandiose public buildings: increasingly, it also focuses on smaller community projects such as garden apartments and sites that reflect the area's rich Latino culture.
Executive director and 20-year Conservancy veteran Linda Dishman explained to Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times, "People are becoming more vocal. …That's one of the great secrets about Los Angeles: People really identify with their neighborhoods." The Conservancy also presents annual preservation awards to honor the efforts of individuals who fight to save places such as Pann’s Coffee Shop and Griffith Observatory.
Carolyn Sargent used art to escape the isolation of hearing loss as a child. Art therapist Elda Unger discovered the power of the arts to help emotionally heal abused children. Together they founded Free Arts for Abused Children, which promotes artistic expression for children who are homeless, have been abused, or are living in foster care. Free Arts maintains four programs, each designed to engage youth in creative self-expression and provide an outlet for strong emotions and troubling experiences. Long-term lessons with role models help youth learn from trustworthy adults; art days empower students to connect with peers and express themselves through new mediums; family art projects encourage interaction within the household; and arts and crafts sessions help distract youth waiting on proceedings at local courthouses.
Grilled or chilled, layered or wrapped, the chefs at The Original Sandbag's Gourmet Sandwiches uphold the age-old art of bread bundling as they craft a mélange of classic sandwiches alongside a complement of classic soups, sides, and desserts. Staffers load up the shop’s fluffy rolls or toasty bread slices with spiced cuts of turkey, saucy meatballs, and veggies before pairing each creation with a homemade chocolate-chip cookie, imbuing senses with nostalgia for days at mom’s house or late-night shindigs at Cookie Monster's mansion. Diners can take their bounty to go or linger at the restaurant, which features a lineup of indoor seating and a collection of patio tables soaking in the warm rays of the noonday sun.
United Friends of the Children’s College Sponsorship program provides financial and emotional support to youth attending colleges across the country. This assistance helps more than 70% of program participants to graduate with a degree. To ease their transition into college-dorm living, United Friends of the Children provides young people who have emerged from foster care with dorm kits, which contain items students will use on a daily basis. Each dorm kit includes a flash drive for school assignments, sheet set and comforter, shower caddy, bath towel and washcloth, and an alarm clock. The items are packaged in a new piece of luggage to enable students to carry all of their belongings to their new dorm room.
After Susan Burton’s 5-year-old son was accidentally hit and killed by a car, she numbed herself with drugs and alcohol. Over the next 20 years, she floated through the criminal-justice system, finding herself in and out of jail and without work or housing when she was free. Finally, in 1997, she gained permanent freedom and sobriety, but she chose not to let the lessons of those years fade into the past. Mobilized by her hardships, Susan began meeting women as they stepped off the prison bus. She brought them into her home and worked with them to rebuild their lives. Confronting the institutional barriers that denied employment, housing, and public assistance to formerly incarcerated women, Susan created a grassroots organization to halt these discriminatory practices. For her courage and efforts to break the cycle of incarceration, CNN named her one of its Top Ten Heroes of 2010.
Today, her organization, A New Way of Life Reentry Project (ANWOL), helps rehabilitate formerly incarcerated women through a multidimensional network of housing and support. Women self-identify goals that will help them reintegrate into the community and work to achieve them with help from support staff. They live in safe residential environments while performing chores, attending school and recovery meetings, and searching for employment. ANWOL also advocates for the legal and civil rights of all formerly incarcerated people and trains women how to represent themselves and other formerly incarcerated women through the Women Organizing for Justice leadership project.
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In 1998, 8-year-old Brandon was staying home from school with a cold. His mom took him to a board of directors meeting at the Hollygrove children’s home, where people were discussing how to build a library for the 60 youths who lived there. Once he got back to school, he started telling his friends that kids at the orphanage needed books, and asked them to donate the ones they had outgrown. On the last day of school before winter break, Brandon surprised his mom as she drove to pick him up—he was standing on the sidewalk surrounded by hundreds of books for the kids. Because they had more books than the children’s home needed, Brandon’s mom started knocking on doors to give the extra books away to children without books. Their combined efforts started BookEnds to help all children experience the joy of reading.
Today, Bookends gathers recycled children’s books and distributes them through student-run book drives at local schools. The students select only high-quality books that will inspire youth to read, then sort and personally deliver the donations. Since its inception, more than 220,000 students have been involved in organizing drives, delivering more than 2.1 million books to 520,000 underserved children.