In March of this year, school closures turned students’ lives upside down from one week to another. United Way of Greater Los Angeles and our Pandemic Relief Fund grantee Communities in Schools Los Angeles have stepped up to help families during this challenging time.

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“For many, school provided a consistent meal, people they could confide in, and a place that stimulated them,” said Jaelyn, a senior at Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Downtown Los Angeles and a member of United Way of Greater Los Angeles’s Young Civic Leaders Program. “Not all students live in a safe home environment, and are forced to do what they can not only to graduate or move onto the next, but keep themselves stable as well.” 

YCLP students, who work with United Way on civic participation and leadership around education issues, were quick to draw connections between the challenges and inequities present before COVID-19 and their emergence as schools moved online. “Many students like myself lack home internet,” said Alma, a YCLP junior at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School. “It has been a struggle to complete online assignments that continue to pile up.” 

Lack of workspace and distractions at home make getting school work done even harder. “Having to take care of my sibling also distracts me from doing my work,” Jose, a junior at Franklin High School in Northeast Los Angeles said. “That’s a big issue for me because then I rush things at the last minute.” 

Early during lockdown, United Way’s YCLP program was able to provide laptops to students—including Jaelyn and Jose—so they could keep up with classes. After weeks of struggle, Alma helped her mother find an affordable plan for internet service. Now they can all complete assignments with more ease.

Connection through YCLP has made a big difference for students during this time. YCLP coordinator Katherine Trejo knows each student personally and checks in frequently to share helpful community resources. “Having the support of an adult that takes their time to check up on us on a weekly basis is very helpful,” Jose said.

Overall the program has given the students perspective on educational barriers and helped them put the crisis into context. “Sometimes we forget the world doesn’t stop to consider our feelings,” said Jaelyn. “Having the student leader group helps me remember we might be struggling right now, but we want to see each other thrive together.”       

Alma appreciates how the program has helped her grow. “YCLP has also allowed me to find my inner voice in demanding for resources to be given to students, which I can now see being brought to life.”

Throughout it all, students find ways to continue to thrive and grow. Jose’s family holds frequent movie and game nights. Jaelyn continues to pursue music to give her strength and an outlet to express her feelings. Alma has been setting time aside, as she put it, “to learn new skills and pursue personal projects I wasn’t able to do during the school year.” 

YCLP gives students the support and inner strength to rise to the unprecedented challenges, one student at a time.

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Communities In Schools Los Angeles

Through a partnership with UWGLA, CISLA is providing case management to our 36 Young Civic Leaders and their families. They are also providing funds to families in greatest need of support during the pandemic.

In addition to the specific efforts with YCLP students, CISLA provides one-to-one case management for nearly 1,000 vulnerable families of LAUSD students. Through the first round of grants from United Way’s Pandemic Relief Fund, CISLA was able to support 6,240 touchpoint interactions with students and families, 178 care packages to families of students, 1,490 donated headphones and $30,000 in emergency funds to families in need. 

Two stories demonstrate how effective the assistance of CISLA can be in helping families during this challenging time.

The Vargas family includes a single mother and three children between the ages of 13 and 17. After COVID-19 hit, Ms. Vargas was let go from her job as a graveyard shift janitor, causing anxiety about the family's finances and well-being. When Ms. Vargas shared her son’s struggles with distance learning, CISLA provided their family with educational support resources, food and money to help with rent and bills. 

Vanessa, a student at Clinton Middle School in South Los Angeles, is the oldest in a family of six including an infant sibling. Her father was recently laid off. COVID-19 has put extreme financial stress on her family. The family is unable to make rent and face eviction. CISLA is connecting the family to housing advocacy support and providing food and direct cash support.

CISLA is an invaluable resource to many LAUSD families, rising to the occasion for struggling working families, disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. 

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