The LET’S BUILD event drew over 150 philanthropists, socialites and elected officials to raise visibility and capital for LLA’s LLABUILD initiative
On inauguration weekend, Bay Area change-makers mobilized to support SF teens, splashing through strong local downpours and politically grey skies to dine together and toast a plan to combat youth homelessness in San Francisco.
The LET’S BUILD event — Life Learning Academy’s most significant and successful fundraiser to date — drew over 150 Bay Area officials, philanthropists, and socialites to Winery SF on Sunday to raise visibility and capital for LLABUILD, the school’s bold initiative to create a first-of-its-kind boarding academy for SF’s most disconnected teens.
“This is going to be home,” said attendee Hydra Mendoza, Senior Advisor to Mayor Lee on Education and Family Services, who also serves as Vice President on the SF School Board.
“This is going to be community. This is exactly what they’ve been looking for,” Mendoza said.
Top: Hydra Mendoza speaks to LLA about the LLABUILD initiative. Above: An official basketball autographed by the 2017 Warriors team was among the auction items at the LET’S BUILD event.
The benefit filled the rustic Winery SF venue with multicultural cuisine from top SF restaurants, live cuban music, collectible auction items, and pledges of commitment from city leaders, private foundations, and corporate partners to help LLA create an innovative boarding option for San Francisco teens who lack safe housing.
In the past two years, LLA has recorded an alarming uptick in students living in cars, motels, doubled up with other families, or drifting from couch to couch, which dramatically impacts their attendance and school performance according to Executive Director Dr. Teri Delane.
One LLA student, who recently told his story in an interview with KTVU, made it clear just how difficult homelessness can be.
“I’ve lived in a hotel. I’ve lived in a car before. I’ve been homeless,” said Austin Parrish, who enrolled at LLA in the Fall. “It’s very unpleasant.”
Parrish is succeeding at LLA, attending consistently and earning strong grades since his housing situation has become more stable.
Austin Parrish has endured housing instability, and is succeeding at LLA.
“I hope people recognize that [teen homelessness] is an issue,” Parrish said, adding that “children should be focused on so they don’t become homeless adults.”
For District Attorney George Gascón, who spearheaded the event, and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim who joined as co-chair, the school’s success resonates with a deeply personal desire to see successful alternatives for struggling teens.
“We both have a tremendous love for the work the academy does,” said Gascón, as he presented a cuban lechón (whole roasted pig), and spoke of the family tradition that he wanted to bring to the gala from his memories growing up in the outskirts of Havana.
Kim’s remarks revealed just how compelling the family atmosphere at LLA felt for her after a first visit as a school board representative evoked a powerful emotional response.
“The visit put me to tears,” Kim said. “I cried because not every school is like Life Learning Academy.”
“It shows you what it means when you have small classroom sizes, when you have teachers who are not just dedicated to learning, but actually educating the full and whole person,” Kim continued, emphasizing that she found at LLA a clarity of purpose about making sure the school to prepare young people to “become fully engaged members of our community and society, through community service, through leadership, through passion and restorative justice.”
Echoing Kim’s endorsement, Gascón described his direct attachment to the intersection between educational opportunity and the incarceration system. He remembered struggling academically as a teen, ultimately dropping out of high school, and watching many friends become system-involved.
“I never had a principal like Teri,” Gascón said. “From a very personal, deeply emotional part, I truly believe in the vision of Life Learning Academy, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.”
LLA was designed to create success for the type of teens that Gascón once was.
The school was created in 1998 as a solution to address rising juvenile incarceration, and has evolved over the years into an award-winning program that educators nationwide have studied for replication and inspiration.
The school earned the California Charter School of the Year award in 2010, and has recently gained renewed visibility in part because of the LLABUILD campaign, which Delane sees as a critical next step for the school to close the gap between students it serves and the housing stability some desperately need.
“They may have a roof,” Delane said, in a televised KTVU interview during SF Homeless Week, “but they do not have a home.”
When complete, the LLABUILD facility will house up to 20 young people who lack stable housing. Delane’s long term plan is to build a facility that can accommodate up to 100 teens who need safe, secure housing in order to pursue college, career and life goals.
As heavy rain hammered the winery’s corrugated roof, guests bid on an autographed Warriors basketball, snacked on roasted meats and student-made truffles, and discussed the causes that move them to action, as well as the mounting barriers that young people will face in the years to come.
For Hydra Mendoza, the trends in national politics spark a renewed urgency to make a difference on the local level.
“This is a model that we should be replicating across the country,” Mendoza said, referring to the vision LLA is advancing to create increased stability and opportunity for homeless teens.
“When we’re in these vulnerable times, where our students, our young people, who have the most to lose, are in this place of uncertainty, the solid foundations we need to build are critical,” Mendoza said, her eyes welling with optimism for what LLABUILD could mean for some.
“We need to get everyone behind Life Learning Academy,” Mendoza urged.
“This is exactly what what’s been missing in their lives. And once they have that stability, everything else will follow.”