MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Heart of LA (HOLA), a nonprofit organization that caters to families and children, will dedicate its new $16.5 million HOLA Arts, Enrichment & Recreation Center Dec. 7 and no one is happier than the organization’s Executive Director and CEO Tony Brown.
“We have been in project heck for too long,” Brown said. “We broke ground in November 2017. It has taken that long. I started dreaming about it many years ago. We started fundraising in June 2015. Now the project is turning the corner — nearing the finish line. I couldn’t be happier.”
The new HOLA Arts, Enrichment & Recreation Center, located at 615 S. Lafayette Park Place, is a 24,000 square-foot facility that will allow the organization to increase the number of families reached from 2,100 to 4,000 annually — a 74% growth, to double the number of students that are served daily from 300 to 600 and increase the number of youth served annually in the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) at HOLA program from its current 250 to 350.
“We anticipate helping a lot more people,” Brown said. “This was done because we wanted more kids in here than we saw out there.”
The mission of HOLA, founded in 1989 by Mitchel Moore, is to provide underserved youth with free, exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.
The organization has three core intensive academic programs and numerous enrichment programs that expose students to a lot of engaging and innovative opportunities that include a music and youth orchestra program, a concentrated and stylish visual arts department, leading sports leagues and clinics, leadership and science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) classes, counseling services, alumni support and scholarships, as well as parent and family resources.
“We believe that HOLA gives kids opportunities they wouldn’t get anywhere else,” said Brown, who has been executive director/CEO since 2006. “They get watered down arts opportunities at their schools, not enough PE (physical education) classes and no music. Now they get all of that. We meet kids where they are.”
To Brown, every kid has the right to a quality education.
“This is not a privilege,” said Brown, a Loyola Marymount University alum. “It really is a right. When we say underserved — what are the obstacles to that, right. I look at our neighborhood where we’re building this flagship center. When it comes to the underserved, we as a society are not giving them a chance, an equitable chance to be successful.”
HOLA’s success record speaks for itself. When it comes to elementary school students, 92% of them and 79% of middle school students’ grades improved. Ninety-eight percent of high school students graduate and pursue post-secondary education, while 97% of the college students succeed and 95% of the kids involved with the organization demonstrate improved health and fitness.
Brown, 50, has been part of the HOLA staff since 1993. He has seen the organization through its growth. When it started 30 years ago it was with a handful of kids in a dilapidated gym.
“HOLA has come a long way,” said Brown, a married (Gwen), father of two (Emori and Penelope). “It was all about the kids then and it’s still about the kids today. It’s always been about asking how we can help the kids get where they want to go. We want to expose them to a world they don’t know.”
Brown is confident that HOLA, which operates annually on a $4 million budget, has been effective in the Westlake and Rampart districts. Those two neighborhoods, reportedly, are among the most densely populated areas in the country and are heavily affected by poverty, gang violence and low achievement. Only 48% of the population has a high school diploma and 14% have a bachelor’s degree. Area schools, reportedly, have one of the highest dropout rates (47%), and one of the lowest graduation rates in the state.
The organization has been able to follow some kids from the age of 6 until they are 24.
“I think to myself, did we help them stop a generational cycle of poverty,” Brown said. “We have kids who are now going to universities. That does it for me. We have about 200 alumni who are the first generation, the first in their families. We are scholarshiping 140 of them. We continue to work with them while they are in college.”
Part of Brown’s job is to build bridges.
“You have to bring together people who have not seen the world through the same lens,” Brown said. “You have to create a common vision, common goals and pursue those goals. Part of our mission is to strengthen communities. It takes a village. There are enough resources to get to all of the pockets around Los Angeles. Every kid we made an impact with, which is about 2,200 a year, eventually comes back.”
Brown points out that part of HOLA’s success is through its many effective partnerships with companies like the Lakers, Rams, Google, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), UCLA, USC, Southwest Airlines, Los Angeles Housing Partnership, Ghetto Film School, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the LA Philharmonic, Bard College, Loyola Marymount University, the LA City Recreation and Parks Department and Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson’s office.
“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