In 1988, Mayor Tom Bradley founded LA’s BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow), an organization focused on providing high quality after-school recreation to our city’s at-risk children. Established in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the visionary program targets filling the crucial after school hours at no cost to the parents. Almost twenty-five years later, the program serves 28,000 children in 180 schools in the city of Los Angeles.
As an active Board Member of LA’s BEST and Craft Ambassador for the Craft & Hobby Association (CHA), I have the unique opportunity to combine my passion for philanthropy with my life-long love of crafting. Last week, during the 2011 CHA Winter Conference & Trade Show, CHA and LA’s BEST hosted a day of crafting at Hoover Elementary School. CHA’s official spokesperson and “Craft Queen”, Terri Ouellette, and I led 200 children in a series of crafting activities. LA City Council’s Field Deputy Richard Reyes joined us and experienced first hand the giggly enthusiasm, big smiles and excitement of the young students. (The afternoon took me back to my days as a Brownie troop leader in charge of teaching a group of 23 girls fun crafts each week.)
As far as the children knew, they were busy creating decorative message boards, door hangers, hats and their very own Pocket Monsters. Unknown to them, the children were actually learning decision-making, concentration, skill building and the value of peer to adult relationships. In studies done by UCLA and CRESST, students who regularly participate in LA’s BEST programs are 20% more likely to stay in school and enjoy what they are learning. The study also indicates that these same children are 30% less likely to commit juvenile crimes or become involved in gang activity. The benefits of the program have also been shown to have lasting effects, staying with the children long after they graduate. In fact, LA’s BEST is starting to see a generation of the organization’s first “graduating class,” inspired by their own experiences, return as educators and volunteers.
Creativity has always been important to my family and me. The value of the imagination is something I have tried to impart to my own children and now my grandchildren. I believe in organizations like LA’s BEST because they invest in our city’s children, helping them find their voice and their way.