By E.M. Fredric
LOS ANGELES, CA – (The Hollywood Times) – June 16, 2019 – If you’ve felt helpless or frustrated over the lack of education afforded our country’s youth as we face more budget cuts and little to no funding – there is hope.
TELL ME A STORY 826LA’s Annual dazzling Benefit Event was recently held at the extraordinary Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles and raised a winning $580,000. They need more help because they give and gift more.
The exciting outdoor reception brought together dedicated community members, staff, volunteers, mentors, interns and the recipients of the program themselves to inform and proudly explain what 826LA is all about before and after entering the historic cathedral. The feeling of the generationally mixed crowd was euphoric. The youth made it so much easier to be carefree and open to wanting to know more about this incredible organization and the display tables in the courtyard, the hors d’oeuvres and libations – didn’t disappoint.
I was fortunate to be one of Louis (Lou) Lucido’s invited guests. We had met at a different children’s fundraiser – CASA – which helps kids caught in the foster care system. Mr. Lucido had received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
I had heard about the magic of Lou, everyone loves him, his family, his friends, stray dogs walking by, I would bet that the valet pays him to park his car at events. Everyone loves Lou Lucido. He’s an intoxicating and busy guy with an infectious sense of humor and magnanimity that makes everyone feel a part of anything he’s attached to. By association, you get introduced to Lou’s passions and they’re enormous – elephant sized. We need more Lou’s or to be like Lou – especially now if we’re to turn anything around or better yet – propel better lives forward. This evening was a giant step forward for educational needs but a dent in the reality of what our kids need in today’s world.
Magnanimous thanks flawlessly and respectfully went to founder, Dave Eggers. as one of many chapters formed from his original 826 Valnencia in San Francisco in 2002. 826LA has had a hell of a start in accomplishing stunning results for children within a short span of time. He inspires beyond compare and gave a mesmerizing speech later in the evening.
I recall watching my own boy struggle from elementary through college to be given the same learning rights afforded to others. I fought for him, and other kids, within the public school system knowing that the eradication of our children’s educational needs and rights were occurring at a rapid rate. The Los Angeles Unified School System (LAUSD) is in dire straits. I have now come to believe that the tide has begun to turn. 826LA’s programs, their Time Travel Mart Gift Store and more is briskly growing – we need them as much as they want us. Click that link and peek inside. What a treasure-trove of unusual merchandise – it will turn your head and make you smile.
As I walked around to see the many offerings to showcase the Time Travel Mart portion of the organization. There were items on auction or shown that would be auctioned (Bill Asher’s electric guitar was among them.) to a backdrop for group photos and free copies of William Randolph Hearst lll’s latest foray
into journalism with ALTA Magazine. There were open bars and waiters to tease you with one delicacy more delicious than the other. More than 300 guests and 45 sponsors showed for RAISE A VOICE – LA has some of the best burbs ever.
Lou introduced me to Cheryl Klein – 826LA’s Development and Communications Manager – who proceeded to give me the skinny on what this program is all about. It’s impressive. 826LA was a place Cheryl longed to work for and has since 2017, combining her love of working with kids and serving her community. These are some of the important points she educated me with, “826LA relies on more than 1,000 volunteers who donate more than 20,000 hours of their time each year. Our volunteers are amazing, from the actors who voice the cantankerous ‘Professor Barnacle’ in Storytelling & Bookmaking field trips, to the designers who make many of the products in our Time Travel Mart, to the mentors who sit side-by-side with students helping them with their homework in Tutoring every day.
“Our programs aren’t official mentorship programs because there’s a wide range of how much time each volunteer spends with each student. It’s amazing what can happen in that one five-hour period, because there’s a lot of vulnerability and a lot of trust. Last fall, a student told his tutor about some challenges he was dealing with at home that were impacting his grades; specifically his dad’s drinking. His tutor came from a similar family background, and understood his student and advocated for him.
“Volunteers see kids grow up, and many siblings go through the program too. ‘Pairings’ in the Tutoring program happen informally, but this allows students and volunteers to find each other. (Volunteers are always in demand and you can shape that any way that fits your schedule.)
“Because we have so many different programs, the per-student volunteer cost varies, but a few stats we like to share include:
- $2,500 provides training for more than 150 volunteers
- $1,000 funds one semester of volunteer support for one of our Writers’ Rooms (classroom-sized 826LA centers on high school campuses)
- $500 covers the cost of volunteer support for 8 writing workshops.
“I am always awed by the energy Lou brings to a room. He uses his generosity to inspire others to be generous, and it ripples and multiplies. He is one of the kindest, most gracious people I’ve met. As for the Lucido’s, they have meant SO much to our organization.'” Cheryl Klein is representative of the enthusiasm 826LA employees, interns and volunteers exhibit. The kids? They melt your heart with their stories of success.
“Don’t confront me with my failures.” – Jackson Browne
The freedom to create, to put your wildest thoughts down and not be criticized, to be encouraged and supported – all the things in life we all deserve. With children? It’s a critical time in shaping their futures. We need them and they need us. 826LA offers all of that for free – out of love and respect for education and our youth. What this group does for LAUSD is more than commendable. It’s heroic.
Dinner was announced and I went inside and found our table was front row center stage with Lou, his family and other guests. The auction went on as we ate and I watched Dennis Lucido bid on the Bill Asher guitar and he won. Then, he came around the table to his father, hugged him and said, “Happy Birthday, dad.” Lou is a longtime fan and friend of Bill Asher’s beautifully handcrafted guitars and he was instrumental in bringing Asher’s work to the event. Now that’s the way to blend 10K into two presents – one for charity and one for dad. An intimate and touching father/son moment to witness.
After the auction there were several testimonials or live readings that 826LA’s impact has had on student lives. Two readings were read by Ashla and Tanya. The crowd was moved.
Comic Danielle Perez (who uses a wheelchair) had told an amazing story about powerful women in her life, her act was censored due to kids being in the room. For comics, every gig is different. Job well done.
The visionary who started it all – Dave Eggers – co-founder of 826 Valencia, spoke about the power and importance of volunteering as a way to bring a divided country closer together. He captivated us speaking about 826LA’s origins and how quickly the growth of his creation was taking place along with a heartfelt opinion:
“I believe deeply that the written word is vital to nurturing a democracy and fostering civic life.” – Dave Eggers, author and founder of the 826 network
826LA is an offshoot of 826National, which grew out of the first chapter of the organization, 826 Valencia in San Francisco, opened in 2002 by Dave Eggers, an acclaimed author and founder of McSweeney’s publishing house, and award-winning educator Nínive Calegari. There are now eight chapters of 826 National, with locations in Boston, Chicago, Michigan, New Orleans, Washington, D.C. and New York.
Then it came time for the evening’s special guest, Jackson Browne. He’s looking mighty fine for a man in his early 70’s and he still has that voice. Browne played three songs (with three different guitars) before being called back for an encore. The lengthy standing ovation, thunderous applause and catcalls were in appreciation of being both present and leaning back in time with our own memories with his poetic words and music. Jackson Browne has written and performed some of the most literate, exquisite and moving songs in popular music and is considered a classic romanticist. The hopes that this exquisite songsmith returns for a future benefit will linger and just may become a reality.
Cheryl Klein said, “I joke that it’s my job to turn words into numbers. TELL ME A STORY raised more than $580,000, thanks to generous supporters like Lou, and people like you who are spreading the word about our work.” And beautiful, important work they do, indeed. They need more because they’re growing and need to reach more schools and the kids who often grow up with them.
826LA – LAUSD NEEDS YOU.
Information on volunteering with 826LA can be found here.