Chris Dusseault, Chair of the Board of Directors
What does it mean to rise to the challenge? It means facing a new and daunting task – and succeeding. For more than a year-and-a-half, we have all faced the new and daunting task of coping with the COVID pandemic.
This annual report’s story begins in July 2020, when the world was just a few months into the pandemic. LA’s BEST communities were being hit disproportionately hard by the disease. So, LA’s BEST staff members stepped up in a major way; in the “Impact” section below, you’ll see how many millions of free meals our Operations team helped distribute to families in need in partnership with LAUSD.
We invested in training our frontline program staff remotely, with an emphasis on social/emotional learning and trauma resilience, knowing that the pandemic was taking a toll. This professional development came into play in November 2020, when LA’s BEST launched virtual spaces dedicated to student wellbeing.
In April 2021, with the impact of COVID vaccinations, we safely and mindfully relaunched in-person student engagement at 198 elementary schools. The LA’s BEST team rose to the challenge of providing supervision, academic support, and enrichment for students on campus, supporting the District to offer staggered scheduling, creating space on campus in compliance with new health protocols and allowing working parents a full day of care and activity for their kids.
When the school year ended, we offered two months of in-person student engagement at our summer learning program — called “the LA’s BEST summer of FUN.” And thanks to additional public and private funding, we reached more schools than ever before. Please be sure to watch the video of our Summer of FUN .
Among all these changes was a more personal one: Eric Gurna, President and CEO of LA’s BEST, announced his resignation. After leading LA’s BEST with passion and intelligence for six years, Eric and his family moved back to the East Coast.
In the year ahead I am eager to transition to a new normal, one where we continue to meet and exceed the needs of our kids and families under circumstances that are more stable, equitable and carefree. Still, as I reflect on 2020-2021, I am encouraged by how much love and courage there is within the LA’s BEST community.
Thank you all for rising to the challenge, and may we continue to rise together.
Throughout the pandemic, 950 LA’s BEST staff members bravely rose to the challenge of meeting the community’s most immediate needs. To combat hunger, LA’s BEST staff members worked on the frontlines — in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and its Beyond the Bell branch — to distribute free meals and supplies at Grab-and-Go Centers. This initiative provided food not only to LA’s BEST families, but to all members of the community. The Centers also provided critical connectivity and emotional support to all.
LA’s BEST also provided staffing and logistics support for COVID testing at 42 LAUSD sites. While school campuses were closed, our staff members also provided in-person supervision for children of essential LAUSD employees, and for children with the greatest needs. And, to stay engaged with all LA’s BEST students and support families, we continued adding resources and videos from staff on our online community, LA’s BEST Connects.
In late April 2021, LAUSD schools re-opened for in-person instruction. However, the optional hybrid model left many parents in need of additional care. In response, LA’s BEST rose to the challenge of caring for students whose families opted for them to stay on campus either before or after in-person instruction occurred.
During that expanded learning time, LA’s BEST staff supported students’ asynchronous online learning, and facilitated COVID-safe enrichment activities. With training centered on social-emotional growth and trauma-resilience, our frontline program staff provided students with much-needed emotional support.
In June 2021, LA’s BEST recognized that the most significant challenge this summer was to create a safe space for children to have fun and be social while learning. We operated as part of the Beyond the Bell program in support of LAUSD’s Summer of Learning 2021 and included themed enrichment and physical activities that nurtured student learning and wellness. Our Summer Program, as always, was completely free to families, enabling parents to return to work knowing their children were safely engaged.
Despite the challenge, we ensured the professional development of our frontline program staff continued to meet our high-standards. We sought and secured partnerships and resources to strengthen our Learning Management System (LMS), an online, secure interactive tool and resource hub that provides training and technical assistance for our staff.
Through the enhanced LMS, staff continued to receive training centered on positive youth development, social-emotional growth, and trauma-resilience in preparation for our program staff to support children as they returned to in-person schooling.
The LMS will continue to be a vital resource to LA’s BEST, allowing us to train our program staff remotely to best meet the needs of students and families regardless of external circumstances.
This was an important year for our advocacy work — and our community of supporters truly rose to the challenge. Our efforts during the pandemic would not have been possible without our public-private partnership and the leadership of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and City of Los Angeles. We adapted to engage in virtual advocacy, sharing the impact of our program through videos, zoom meetings, and more. And, after years of fighting for increased state resources for afterschool programs, our voice was heard!
The state budget included both a significant increase to existing afterschool funding rates and a historic investment to expand access — funding that will help families by allowing us to sustain and grow our essential work. This is a recognition of the critical role LA’s BEST and our expanded learning partners have on families, and a testament to the heroic work of afterschool staff.
In addition to this budget win, we also deepened our partnerships with state and local elected officials and partners this year. But there’s more work to be done to ensure that all children have the resources they need to thrive. We are grateful to everyone who is part of our movement, and we look forward to continuing this work together. Onwards!
We created a collection of stories that show how staff rose to the challenge of supporting families from Los Angeles’ economically distressed neighborhoods over the last year. Each story brings to life the positive influence and often transformational footprint of LA’s BEST. We invite you to read or watch the videos on how our staff connected with students and families and the long-term impact LA’s BEST has on the lives of our alumni and community.
“The staff helped fill in gaps in my learning.”
Alumni Mayra shares how she developed her learning skills and stepped out of her comfort zone to become who she is today.
Click here to read the story.
“I learned that children need to be developed.”
A student’s love for basketball and support from staff taught him valuable life lessons and helped him succeed in school.
Click here to read the story.
“Jess, you make me feel like I’m not a single parent.”
Staff member Jessie shares how she built a meaningful relationship with a troubled student, which made the student’s mother feel supported.
Click here to read the story.