After my Mom died I decided to start volunteering to distract me from my overwhelming grief. I enrolled with L.A. Works -- they offer a wide array of volunteer opportunities with many different types of organizations. I tried park clean-ups, meal services at the Mission downtown, giving manicures to homeless women at a shelter and a great deal of other things; but to me, the most rewarding opportunity I found was "Kids in the Kitchen," at the Center for LifeLong Learners. This is the only volunteering project I attend every time there is a "class." When I first started, I noticed that many of the kids had not heard of blueberries and other fruits and vegetables that I grew up on. I was surprised at first, but being in a lower income area, where many of the chlidren are from non English-speaking homes (or speak very little English), I realized that some things aren't as accessible and known. During class if we are working with a new ingredient, we pass it around so the kids can either taste (blueberries), smell (vanilla extract), or touch (flour). I can most certainly see if there's a difference in the kids' desire to cook and bake. As a result, their abilities have grown. They get excited to learn new things as well as feel the joy of cooking our recipes for their parents at home. Some of the children have now decided that they want to be chefs or bakers when they grow up. CLLL is a place that directly helps the community. It's not a place that takes resources and funnels them around through different channels to get to the end result. CLLL is right here, helping the kids in the community to become all they can and desire to be. The Center for LifeLong Learners has brought more fulfillment to my life through volunteering; and I know it has brought much help, fulfillment and opportunity to the children who attend!
I have been volunteering 2 or 3 years now at the Center for LifeLong Learners on Saturday, twice a month, to participate in the Kids in the Kitchen project. The project caught my attention several years ago on the LA Works website because its uniqueness stood out from the dozens of opportunities posted on the calendar which sought volunteers. It still does today. There are many reasons why this is but simply put, Kids in the Kitchen offers a unique opportunity for its young participants to learn about nutrition and healthy food alternatives not only firsthand but to extend the learning experience to their parents as well.
An example of this occurred just recently with one of the participants, whom I shall call L, who I discovered had a tortuous relationship with vegetables. Little L used to come to the project off and on but steadily as of several weeks ago. Right around the same time I noticed that, though she enthusiastically participated in every aspect of the meal preparation, but when it came time to consume the meal she quietly picked out, and did not eat, her vegetables. Immediately upon noticing, I called her on it and told her that she has to at least try a bite. (Dessert was held hostage and used to broker a deal.) A long process of negotiations followed over 2 to 3 projects to get L to eat a bite of veggies. I even spoke to her mother about it and her parent agreed that she could not get L to consume vegetables at home either but I and the project leader, kept on her to at least try and she did. But that is not the end of the story. Something remarkable happened last week when we made a healthy version of tacos. I kept my eye on L ready to negotiate once she started picking away her vegetables, but I did not have to. Without being asked, she loaded her whole ground corn shell with ground beef, cheese and lettuce! She not only loaded her taco with the lettuce but she promptly bit into it without the slightest wrinkle of her little nose. Later, she came up to me, tugged on my shirt and said "I like the lettuce." I should mention that lettuce was the first vegetable involved in our longstanding negotiations. This scenario with a youngster who hates vegetables is one example of why the Kids in the Kitchen project and the Center for LifeLong Learners where it is held, is so wonderful and so necessary! KJB, UCLA
Review from Guidestar
I do not know where to start, but what I do know is that the Center for Lifelong Learners has done so much for me and I am really grateful for that. When I first came to the United States from Guyana, which is located in South America, I was really shy, I did not talk to anyone. When I came to the center Ms. Toni, the Executive Director, used to personally come and help me with my homework. The center is a wonderful place where you come and get help with your homework or study for tests or to read. It's a place where no one judges you. When I came to the center, my report card revealed D's and F's but after being in the center for a couple of months I started getting A's and B's. I also made honor roll when I got to Middle School. Now I'm in high school. Will graduate next year and am looking forward to studying medicine at Johns Hopkins University to become an Ob-Gyn.
The center not only helped me but also my family. Because of the center my mom started going back to school (she struggled to read when we first arrived in the U.S. She had a 7th grade education) and my brother learned why he was not doing well in school. The center had him assessed by a national academic program where he scored in the 95th percentile in Math and Language Arts. I am really grateful for the center-- without it I would still be doing bad in school and still be that shy girl who was afraid to talk.
Review from Guidestar
I have been a volunteer here for 7 months. I came because my sister is a volunteer tutor/art instructor and recruited me for the program's Summer STEM Project 2012. Since being here I have learned what a real afterschool program looks like.
When in middle school I attended a well known afterschool program that didn't provide the quality services as offered at the Center for LifeLong Learners (CLLL). Here at CLLL youngsters can count on 1 on 1 or small group daily homework help, reading and math tutorials as well as opportunities to play games and socialize. During the summer they go on field trips, walk to the library, and have the opportunity to take home any books that CLLL has available. The mission here is to transform at-risk youth into high achievers; and I get to see that happen every day that I'm here.
Review from Guidestar
I first found out about this organization when I was a teenager and my parents brought me to get homework assistance. I loved coming here because it was a comfortable place where I could do homework and spend time with my friends. Then I became a volunteer and after some time I became part of the staff. I still love being part of the Center because of the family setting and because of the difference we are making with the children and with the parents. All of the people who are involved with us in some way see some difference in their child and in their lives. The Center has its ups and downs but everyone puts in effort to help it become better and better each day.
The Center is a great place for both students and parents! It helps them build skills that will help them work together and provide a brighter future for themselves and family members. The center is a wonderful environment that encourages students to be the best they can be, by providing the resources and skills needed to continue their educational career.
The Center is a wonderful place for kids to go after school to get their homework done. The staff and volunteers are attentive and very good at helping the kids complete their assignments.
For the past 4 years, I have enjoyed my association with Toni Laudermilk because of who she is; a visionary, an implementer and a caring and loving human being. She is always busy, doing things for others in her agency and in her home. LAUSD continued to send children with learning disabilities and behavior problems to CLLL, clearly children outside of her core target and Toni would not be able to take them because she didn't have the staff to deveote the time. Then the Lord blessed with doctors from USC and the community who were able to provide direction; now Toni has 20 children with ADD and ADHD, who have reaped the benefits of being at CLLL - increasing their GPA, learning and improving their behavior. When the Hispanic families began to outnumber the African American families seeking tutorial help; Toni sought bi-lingual tutors and college students to work with the children AND the parents - she surmissed that the entire family should learn English and be able to support each other. Constructive feedback to strengthen the organization would be what Toni and I have talked about, and we know is coming - that is a stable core of tutors that will impact learning and support best paractices over short and long term progress. Toni also need a "right hand" man/woman to left some of the daily tasks and challenges from her. She now has a thriving, active, vested board, and they are very supportive of her and undergird her as much as they can. Toni is a survivor, an optimist, and a caring individual. She knows that this is her calling to serve the disenfranchised, and we who love her want to support her in every that we can.
Toni Laudermilk Executive Director of the Center for LifeLong Learners has always been a volunteer. She served as secretary to the founder of this organization, became a tutor and then a longtime board member. Toni has been a part of this organization for almost 30 years, starting when she was 20-something. She never dreamed that she would some day become the head of a local nonprofit organization helping youth and their families become all they can be. I have been a donor for as long as she has been a volunteer. I believe in the cause transforming at risk youth into high achievers; and while doing this improving the lives of mothers, aunts and grandparents. Sending them back to school, teaching them to read, providing job skillls resources and introducing them to the importance of spreading the word of not only the need to learn but the need to be healthy women whether young or old. She has partnered with two other organizations Pasadena Birthing Project and LifeLong Sisters Staying Healthy to inform women of the importance of nutritious cooking for them and their families; maintaining doctors appointments and learning how to communicate with their health provider to improve healthier outcomes. Together they inform young women on the importance of having healthy pregnancies and how to do it. They are currently looking forward to a 3rd colaboriation with Women at Work to provide job skills training in the Historic West Adams community. It is Toni's belief that if mothers are healthy, then the family can also be healty.
The Exec. Dir., Toni Laudermilk, is the hardest working person I have ever met. She single-handedly makes the Center energizing, safe and focused on each child's educational success. The stories are heart-wrenching and wonderful all in the same breath. The miracle of the Center for Life Long Learners in the community is in the heart beat of Toni!