MAKING A DIFFERENCE
On Jonathan Zeichner’s first day on the job as the executive director of A Place Called Home, he said employees were stressed and fearful about losing their jobs, the computers weren’t working, there was a fire in a dumpster and an accident happened on the street.
But when he went home to his wife and she asked him about his first day, he replied it was “perfect.”
“It was perfect because all of those things indicated areas where we could immediately start making a difference,” said Zeichner, who has helmed A Place Called Home for 10 years.
“In the past decade, we have grown. We have added to our footprint, expanded the campus, welcomed a charter campus and expanded services to include families. At A Place Called Home we say, ‘Changing the world starts at home,’ and what we mean is that growth and transformation starts inside you and me and extends out to affect others and make a difference in the world”.
For 26 years, A Place Called Home has been serving youth and families by providing a safe, nurturing environment with programs in arts, education, and wellness for the young people in South Los Angeles — to help them improve their economic conditions and develop healthy, fulfilling and purposeful lives.
Debrah Constance, a real estate professional, founded the organization in 1993 because she was dedicated to providing gang-affected youth with a safe place after school to get a snack, do homework, play with friends and be with caring adults.
Today, APCH comprises 35,000 square feet of space and includes an athletic field, recording studio, commercial kitchen, dance studio, state-of-the-art teen services and performing arts center, plus two community gardens. The organization also provides field trips that include sailing, fishing, horseback riding, student exchange programs, and internships.
Although there is open enrollment three times a year, APCH is so popular, there is a waiting list of 500 to 1,000 kids. Currently, APCH serves an average of 11,000 South Los Angeles residents each year.
“We need long-term support to build out our facility so we can reduce that waiting list,” said Zeichner, who added, “it’s all about the kids.”
“Our kids may have been born in a tough ZIP code, but they have their minds and spirits,” he said. “They can make a difference. They may not be rich by certain standards, but they can become rich in their spirit and have the capacity to have a good life.”
Zeichner, 62, said the organization’s name characterizes what the organization is all about.
“It’s a place where you can belong,” he said. “Our goal is to meet every child where they are and to respond to their needs. We are invested in the community as a whole.”
There are five core programs at APCH that work in conjunction with one another to support members, help youth avoid destructive behaviors and develop life skills and motivation to overcome adversity.
The programs are Arts & Creative Expression (digital media, music, dance, theater, and fine arts); Community Engagement & Volunteerism (designed to enfranchise parents, family and community members in the agency’s mission); Educational Services (daily tutoring and homework assistance from second grade through college level); Health, Nutrition & Well Being (promotes overall wellness); and Teen & Young Adult Services (mentoring, life skills development, career, and college guidance, counseling, professional readiness training, and scholarships).
When a young person walks into A Place Called Home, Zeichner said they are met with love.
“We’re not afraid to say that,” he said. “We see each other. We respond with love and respect. Whatever they are going through, they are welcomed as an important part of the community. We play and laugh. Joy is a non-negotiable ingredient of what we provide and believe in.”
On a typical day, Zeichner said APCH supports 350 youth on campus and 109 scholars attending colleges and universities across the country. The APCH Shaheen Scholarship program has sent 433 students to college since 2002.
“The semester-to-semester member retention rate is above 90%, allowing APCH to make a deep and lasting impact in our members’ lives,” Zeichner said.
APCH’s current membership is comprised of participants that are 91% Latino/a, seven percent African-American and two percent “other.” The age range is 8 to mid-20s. The gender breakdown is 45% boys and 55% girls.
In 2018 APCH received its seventh consecutive four-star rating from Charity Navigator, a major charity assessment organization that evaluates charitable organizations in the United States.
According to APCH, 87% of its members are living at or below the federal poverty line of $24,600 for a family of four, 79% share the center’s 90011 zip code, where the median family income is $32,218. In comparison, the median family income for all of Los Angeles is $54,501.
Zeichner describes A Place Called Home as “an oasis –on the corner of South Central and 29th.”
He calls it a place of love and opportunity and a pathway all the way to education or a good job.
“That’s the objective,” he said. “We want to support them in pursuing their dreams. We’re supporting the youth and families in that neighborhood. About 150,000 community members have been touched by our work. This is a thriving, aerodynamic and very joyful enterprise.”
Zeichner said he asks himself every day whether he’s the right person for the job.
“We’re not here to dispense all the answers,” he said. “We are participating in a movement. We have to respond to the stimuli around us. This is a beautiful, challenging experience. I think I’m the right person because I am committed to supporting other people to be their best. Sometimes being a good leader means getting out of the way.”
Listening to Zeichner talk about APCH, it’s clear how much he is dedicated to its success.
“I have the best job in the world,” he said. “I get to get up and be of service to a lot of people. My mom once said, ‘Just make yourself useful.’ That’s what I do in the morning. This job allows me and my staff to be useful every day.”
“Making A Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making A Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
By Darlene Donloe