Andrea Sonnenberg, co-founder and CEO of Wise Readers to Leaders, is joined by her husband, Glenn Sonnenberg, as she sits among kids taking part in the program, one of the beneficiaries of eight $250,000 grants awarded by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Photo by Max Gerber Photography

$2 million in grants awarded to 8 L.A. groups


Dr. Lawrence D. Platt knows how hard it is to have a child in the military halfway around the world. Just ask him about his son Ari’s experience as a lone soldier, a member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) serving without the nearby support of immediate families.

“My son, a combat officer, served as a lone soldier from 2009 to 2011 and is on reserve if something comes up,” Platt said. “When he was called back to Israel to serve during Operation Protective Edge, my wife and I had a firsthand experience of what families go through when a family member is in harm’s way.”

That experience led Platt to found and co-chair Families of Lone Soldiers Los Angeles (FLS), an organization now seeking to create a local center that would provide social, mental health, educational and financial support to families in similar circumstances.

The organization’s efforts recently received a major boost when it received a $250,000, three-year Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. It was one of eight groups to receive such grants, a total of $2 million, which were announced on Aug. 17.

FLS plans to use the funds to help subsidize programming and fundraising efforts as it operates, for now, as a center without walls at various locations around Los Angeles.

“Uniting these families together who share common interests and issues will certainly prevent the feeling of isolation from the broader Jewish community,” Platt said.

Stuart Steinberg, whose son, Sgt. Max Steinberg, was a lone soldier killed in action in Gaza in July 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, said the grant provides an important opportunity for the FLS program.

“My family’s involvement continues to be a great source of healing for us and an opportunity to help turn our tragedy into something positive,” Steinberg said. “I am excited about the grant because as we promote greater awareness of our work to the Jewish community, we also help establish Max’s legacy within the fabric of our organization and the way he committed to and sacrificed for both the U.S. and Israel.”

Other 2017 recipients of the $250,000 Cutting Edge Grants, each distributed over three or four years, were:

• The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Family Camp Pilot program connecting Jewish camps to Jewish early childhood centers.

• Federation’s Y&S Nazarian Foundation Iranian Young Adult Outreach and Engagement Initiative.

• The Volunteer Engagement Project of the Karsh Family Social Service Center, an auxiliary of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

• OneTable, for the Los Angeles launch of its online platform that helps out-of-college millennials anywhere in the U.S. find a Shabbat dinner.

• StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy organization, to create its J.D. Fellowship for Jewish law students in L.A.

• UpStart LA to help Jewish organizations be innovative and increase their impact.

Wise Readers to Leaders for its Tikkun Olam Corps summer literacy and enrichment program

The grant recipients “demonstrate a capacity and leadership to implement an initiative that is unique, sustainable and offers long-term positive impact on our local Jewish community,” said Elana Wien, vice president at the Foundation’s Center for Designed Philanthropy.

“Through this year’s recipient programs,” Wien added, “[the Foundation] is providing significant financial support to efforts that foster engagement and participation in local Jewish life; provide critical human services and assistance to those in need; and serve diverse segments of our community from youth to seniors.”

The Tikkun Olam Corps connects Jewish teens with underserved elementary school students in Los Angeles who come mostly from Latino communities. Andrea Sonnenberg, co-founder and CEO of Wise Readers to Leaders, said the grant will help expand educational opportunities for the teens and their students throughout the year.

Sonnenberg said the Cutting Edge Grant, distributed over four years, will help accelerate the program’s growth and impact. While 300 school children were served in the summer of 2017, Sonnenberg projects more than 500 students and 150 Jewish teens will be served each year by 2020. 

Under the supervision of education, religious, social work and management professionals, Jewish college students serve as teachers in classrooms at several campuses throughout Los Angeles, with Jewish high school students from 10th grade and up acting as assistant teachers.

“We intend to use some of this money to step up our outreach to Jewish teens by setting up booths at high school fairs, have more recruiting sessions before summer and build more campuses across the city,” Sonnenberg said. “The program is not just for those considering teaching careers. It also provides them experience in social work, psychology and other careers involving children. Even if they don’t pursue any of these careers, the Jewish values learned here will serve them throughout their lives.”

The Wise Readers’ Tikkun Olam Corps Program and Families of Lone Soldiers’ Los Angeles center exemplify what the Foundation seeks in in the grant applicants, Wien said.

“Both harness the power of community to meet the needs of underserved populations,” she said. “Collectively, all our Cutting Edge Grants recipients offer transformative ideas for reimagining local Jewish life and touching the broadest possible segments of our community.”

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