Our PLUS ME Spotlight for this month shines on: Kenneth Jones
Hometown/Current Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Major Gifts Associate for Los Angeles LGBT Center (Hollywood)
Kenneth is a Los Angeles native who takes pride in his Mexican and African American heritage. As the youngest of 5, Kenneth always admired and greatly respected his mother for her ability to raise all of her children on her own. She worked as a waitress and always made it clear that she wanted her children to achieve more by going to college or learning a trade. She always encouraged Kenneth and his siblings to put 110% into whatever they did.
Growing up, one of Kenneth’s main struggles surrounded his own self-doubt. He was not raised in a wealthy household and always felt the pressure of needing to succeed. He would often wonder how he would make it, if he would make it, or what path was meant for him. As a child, Kenneth watched Law & Order and always dreamed of becoming a police officer. After graduating from Hamilton High School, Kenneth decided to study at Santa Monica Community College and graduated with an associate’s degree in Business Administration.
Over time, he realized that in order to be successful he needed to be tenacious, network with others, and always help people in need. Kenneth realized he could do all of these things in the nonprofit sector and discovered a new passion. He was an avid volunteer for multiple organizations in Los Angeles and found joy in serving disadvantaged communities.
One of his biggest accomplishments was when he received the Volunteer Service Award by President Obama for the community work he did with the Red Cross. His current role at the Los Angeles LGBT Center as the Major Gifts Associate is something he is very proud of.
In all of the great work Kenneth has done, he wants to be remembered as a caring, compassionate individual who helped to uplift his community and offered support to anyone in need. Kenneth believes the PLUS ME Project provides invaluable services to students in helping them shape and express their stories. He supports our work because he wants more students to realize the importance of their journeys and that they matter.
We are excited to announce that Team PLUS ME is now a staff of 4.
Bethanee Epifani - Facilitator & Program Associate
Marlené Lopez - Facilitator & Creative Associate
Morgan Chitty - Facilitator & Development Associate
Richard Reyes - Executive Director
We hope to meet you soon. If you see us at a local school conducting our programs, at a local coffee shop collaborating on a project, or at our Cross Campus office in a meeting, say hello!
PLUS ME Project believes everyone has a story that matters and our work centers around the power of the personal narrative. We are proud to launch our newest initiative, PLUS ME Spotlight, which is a monthly segment that will highlight stories of our biggest supporters.
This month we are shining a story spotlight on one of PLUS ME’s most enthusiastic supporters: Christine LaPorte.
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Resides: Oceanside, CA
Occupation: High School Math Teacher
As a teenager, Christine was an honors high school student, varsity cheerleader, soccer player, and Junior Rotary Club member. She excelled in her academics and always knew college was the route she wanted to take. She attended Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois and became heavily involved on her campus. Christine was a Tri Delta member, resident advisor, and school ambassador.
Her time in college had a positive impact on her life and was the place where Christine gained a strong sense of self-awareness. She always loved math and the idea of pursuing a teaching career came after a conversation she had with one of her professors. As a result, she graduated with a degree in Mathematics & Secondary Education and immediately moved to Southern California to teach.
After graduating college, Christine’s dedication and hard work continued to bring great success her way. She bought her first home at 24, was debt free, and was very proud of the independence she had gained as a young adult. However, despite these accomplishments, Christine felt something was still missing from her life. She turned to her faith to seek answers and realized she wanted to do more service work. She pursued a teaching opportunity at a Catholic high school in San Diego and here she realized she could not only teach what she loves, but also remind students of their own faith and purpose in life on a daily basis. Ultimately, Christine wants to be remembered as a teacher who loved her students and was dedicated to their growth.
As a teacher and youth advocate, Christine greatly supports the mission of the PLUS ME Project and believes the work being done is beneficial and necessary. She really loves the new PLUS ME notebooks that serve as a wonderful tool for students to discover and articulate their own stories. Christine believes that every teenager should have our specialized notebooks as a way for them to expand their self-awareness and appreciate their unique journey.
As we kick off 2019, PLUS ME Project is proud to welcome four talented community advocates to our board of directors.
Salim is a board-certified internal medicine physician who specializes in hospital-based care at UCLA Medical Center. In addition to his clinical duties, he is a faculty member at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA where he is actively involved in medical education and quality improvement projects. He has a special interest in digital health, mobile health (mHealth) and wearable technology. Prior to medicine, Salim was a management consultant at Accenture. He completed his medical doctorate at Wayne State University and a bachelor of applied science in computer engineering at the University of Waterloo. Salim enjoys sports, in particular, Olympic hockey, NCAA march madness and World Cup Soccer. When he isn’t working in Los Angeles, you might find him mid-air enroute to a new travel destination!
Sari Ladin-Sienne is a policy strategist focused on helping organizations accelerate their missions through thoughtful applications of data and technology. Most recently, Sari was appointed the Chief Data Officer of the City of Los Angeles by Mayor Eric Garcetti where she executes his vision for a more responsive, and data-driven Los Angeles. She previously worked as a Harvard Ash Fellow for the Mayor’s Data Team where she led the team’s digital strategy and elevated the city’s best practices to the national conversation through her articles for Harvard’s Data Smart Cities and Government Technology. She has provided data analysis, budgeting, and policy recommendations to a range of public and nonprofit clients. Sari holds a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Hollywood with her husband and dog. In her free time, Sari enjoys exploring the diverse food scene LA has to offer.
Jenn is the Director of Global Threat Management at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where she oversees the organization’s global threat monitoring, intelligence assessments, and risk analysis for international business operations, productions, and special events. Before joining Sony Pictures, Jenn spent 20 years working in a combination of national security and private-sector competitive intelligence roles—including several years with the FBI as a counterterrorism intelligence analyst, work in the unmanned aircraft industry as a strategy and corporate intelligence specialist, and later running her own risk consultancy firm. Jenn is a graduate of Yale University (BA, Political Science) and the National Intelligence University (MS, Strategic Intelligence).
Michelle is a Senior Associate with PwC's Los Angeles office within the Risk Advisory group. She leads information technology and operational controls audits and assessments for clients within the financial services industry, specifically focused on banking, asset management, and insurance companies. Her responsibilities include performing risk assessments, identifying areas of efficiencies, implementing new systems / processes, and seeing projects through from end-to-end. Michelle graduated with a B.S in International Relations Global Business from the University of Southern California and is a Certified Information Systems Auditor in California.
Want to learn more about our other board members? Read their bios here.
PLUS ME's 10 Highlights From 2018
We look forward to 2019 and would like to thank everyone who helped make 2018 an unforgettable year for PLUS ME!
On #GivingTuesday, we completed our #100Volunteers100Stories campaign and inspired over 1,500 students across Los Angeles.
Our volunteers visited:
El Sereno Middle School
Gage Middle School
International Studies Learning Center
Lincoln High School
Marquez High School
Santee Learning Complex
South Gate Middle School
Each volunteer shared their own 15-minute story highlighting the obstacles and accomplishments they encountered when they were in middle and high school.
Thank you to everyone who helped make this campaign a success!
At the PLUS ME Project, a major part of what we do is serve as Guest Speakers at schools across Los Angeles. We share personal stories with students in an effort to connect with and inspire them. It's wonderful when those students who have experienced our PLUS ME program see the value in our work and want to contribute by sharing their own stories. Jose is one of those students. He has a powerful story to share and is passionate about instilling hope into the lives of young people in this community.
Here is Jose's story:
Born to Salvadorian parents, my first language was Spanish so simply learning to read words like “apple” or “cat” in English while in kindergarten was a challenge for me. I remember my teacher would give us homework to practice reading words aloud and as much as I would try, I still struggled. Each time I would fail to get the word right my father would punish me by hitting me with a belt while my mother watched helplessly in fear that the abuse would turn on her. To protect myself and my mother from my father’s abuse I became a very hardworking and studious child. Despite my efforts to protect us, the abuse didn’t stop. My father eventually got arrested one night after beating my mother over not having dinner ready for him. After he went to jail, my mother became the breadwinner working minimum wage jobs and I became a man of the house at age 6. I was watched by babysitters until 8th grade and would barely see my mom for 4 hours a day if I was lucky. As a result of my abusive and unstable childhood, I became quiet throughout elementary and middle school and my understanding of relationships was that they were unnecessary and dangerous.
I went to Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. I worked hard to excel in academics by taking college classes and AP courses. Managing my academics was difficult for me and in my junior year I ended up in the hospital after experiencing sharp pain in my chest. At first, I thought it had something to do with my heart, but the doctor told me the result was due to stress. When the doctor asked what I was stressed about, I mentioned all of my schoolwork and he advised me to exercise more.
When I got back to school and told my friends about it, one of them suggested that I join Students Run LA. The first day I ran 3 miles with them, but by the first mile I felt nauseated and ended up being the last one to finish running. It was an embarrassing moment for me. I didn’t back down from the challenge though and after 2 weeks of training I completed my first 6-mile race! Soon the marathon was around the corner. The trail was all throughout Los Angeles starting at Dodger Stadium and ending in Santa Monica. Once the marathon began I learned to finally pace myself and not care if people passed me. I was doing great until it was mile 7. Once I hit that mark, I began to feel a sharp pain on my right knee. My teacher caught up to me and asked if I wanted to stop running the marathon due to my pain. My immediate answer was no because I had worked too hard to give up now. With a swollen knee, I finished my first marathon with an 8-hour time. I received a huge medal and a sweater that said “Marathon Finisher” which I wore very proudly to school the next day.
Because of what happened to me when I was 6, I always did my best to maintain excellent grades in school. My mom always told me, “If you don’t go to college, you might end up like me.” She sacrificed and came to this country to provide me with opportunities that she did not have and I did not want to let her down. At the beginning of my senior year, it was time to apply for college. Although I was nervous, I submitted applications to eight schools and was surprised to find out I got accepted to a majority of them. My mom wanted me to go to California State University, Los Angeles to stay home with her, but I knew I wanted to grow and in order to do that I needed to get away.
Today I am a pre-law student at University of California, Merced. There is a prejudice that students who attend this school are not be likely to get into graduate school, medical school, or law school solely for the fact that it is a new campus. However, my legacy is to break this mentality by attending law school and assuring the students at UC Merced that it is possible to strive for graduate school after college. My hope is to inspire students in my community and share with them that the hardships we face do not define what we are capable of doing and who we can become. As a first generation Latino child who grew up in a single parent, low-income household, I faced many moments in my life where I doubted my potential. My belief is that education is the key to helping break that cycle, but I hope that anyone who faces these injustices will use them to power their ambition instead of bringing them down. I know that by completing my education and pursuing a college degree, I have the tools I need to help the community and future generations. One day after I graduate from UC Merced, I will pursue a graduate degree in law to fight for human rights so children will be protected better than I was from abuses of power.
I am extremely grateful for the PLUS ME Project because they helped me realize that I had a story and that it can be used to inspire others. I was extremely moved by Richard's story when I heard him speak at a Southern California College Access Network event. He walked our cohort through a storytelling experience that I will never forget. It was in that moment when I realized I had a story that I wanted to share with students across Los Angeles and I am grateful to have this opportunity. I am proud to share that I will be an intern for PLUS ME in the Spring and will share my story with hundreds of students in 2019!
We partnered with GEAR UP 4 LA throughout September and October bringing our Parent Engagement series to over 50 of their parents. Parents bonded over shared experiences, inspired each other with their vulnerability, and strengthened their relationships with their families.
When parents know their stories matter, so do their children.
Our 2018 - 2019 year kicked off with multiple capacity building support offers from The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
In July, we received a sponsorship from the office of 1st District Supervisor, Hilda Solis, providing us the opportunity to develop a new 3-year strategic plan with consultants from Executive Service Corps. This nine-month program will guide our executive director and board of directors through multiple training sessions that will result in us producing detailed organizational goals, objectives, and action plans through 2022.
Additionally, PLUS ME also received a sponsorship to participate in 2nd District's Capacity Building and Leadership Development Program. This program hosted by Mark Ridley Thomas' office and Community Partners helps small to mid-size organizations achieve greater organizational sustainability, programmatic effectiveness, and financial strength. Through eight monthly training and coaching sessions, we will strengthen and expand PLUS ME's capacity to serve its constituents.
We are honored to have earned their support and look forward to building our capacity and growing our impact throughout the year!
I remember how much I struggled when writing my college personal statement as a transfer student back in 2009. I had no idea what to write and constantly felt overwhelmed by the process.
While moving last year, I found it in a folder and was shocked by how little it did to showcase my resiliency at that age. Instead of highlighting how I overcame my lung collapsing three times and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, I wrote about the struggle of being a TA at an elementary school.
They would not specify why, but I still believe the reason I did not get accepted to Occidental College the first time I applied was due to my subpar personal statement. I cringed and felt embarrassed for my former 20-year old self after reading it for a few minutes and then it clicked. This was another reason why I launched PLUS ME Project.
Writing a personal statement when applying to college or grad school is one of the toughest things a student must do. I experienced it first hand and have now committed myself to making it easier for others.
Our Storytellers PLUS ME curriculum guides students through a 10-hour process helping them identify and share their own powerful, resilient personal narratives. They each get to share their stories in front of their peers and leave with the building blocks that they use when writing their college personal statements.
Help me continue to bring this important work to more students this year by supporting our #5Years5Days5Dollars campaign in celebration of PLUS ME’s 5th anniversary or bringing our program to your school!
Richard Reyes is the founder and executive director of PLUS ME Project. To contact Richard, email him at email@example.com
On Sunday, June 3rd PLUS ME hosted its 5th Annual Silent Auction Benefit at Brookside Club in Pasadena. We had over 200 guests join us to celebrate our recent accomplishments and raise funds for our new program initiative.
IR & Kumud Patel
Law Office of W. Patrick McPhilamy III
Reel Muzik Werks
St. John Foundation
Pasion Flamenca Los Angeles
We would like to thank all our sponsors, donors, volunteers, and team members who made this event the success that it was. We look forward to our 6th Annual Benefit next year and hope to see you there!
We kicked off our Alliance GEAR UP Parent Champions program in January with a cohort of parents that represent the 7 middle schools Alliance GEAR UP currently serves. Once a month we met with these parents and facilitated our PLUS ME Parent Engagement program, helping them develop and articulate their own personal narratives.
Throughout the first four months, the parents identified and wrote about the important characters, settings, events, and lessons from their lives. Each parent created a timeline highlighting important small moments from their lives and engaged with their children back home through monthly homework assignments.
At the end of our program in May, each parent stood in front of an audience and had the opportunity to own a part of their story. For many of these parents it was the first time they stood up in front of a group of strangers and revealed some of the toughest struggles they had overcame throughout their lives.
Maria Vasquez, one of the Parent Champions, shared with us one of her biggest takeaways from the program. "In my community, there are many parents who do not even talk to their kids. They don't do this because that's how they were raised. I did not have strong communication with my parents and PLUS ME made me realize that I want to change that with my children. Now I communicate with my son on a daily basis because I feel like I have to. I realized the importance of sharing our stories and creating closer bonds with our family and friends."
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these parents and look forward to supporting their students as they enter high school in the Fall.
Our Board of Directors spent a morning in April at Cobalt & Clay for our PLUS ME Spring Board Retreat. Board Member, Lilian Miller, facilitated "Board Members Make The Best Fundraisers" and shared her development expertise with our team. We also discussed ways to further engage as board members and finalized our plans for our 5th Annual Silent Auction Benefit. At the end of our agenda, we played with clay and created our own masterpieces.
Our PLUS ME Champions got together to celebrate our Motivational March success and strategize for our 2018 - 2019 year. We enjoyed lunch at The Standard and finished our day at our Cross Campus Downtown LA office space.
Our Executive Director, Richard Reyes, was selected as a semi-finalist for Social Venture Partners LA's Fast Pitch 2018 competition. From January - March, he worked on creating and delivering a 3-minute pitch that centered around PLUS ME's impact and innovation. SVPLA partnered him with two coaches, Joan Herman and Evelin Montes, to support Richard throughout the 3 month process. Below is a video to the final pitch that was delivered in March at Wilshire Ebell Theatre.