About two years ago, Carla Chadwick, 30, woke up in the middle of the night with an idea to help the homeless. She was fed up with her 9-to-5 job. Somehow, some way, she was determined to do something more with her life.
Since then, her idea has blossomed into the Harmony Project, a grass-roots organization to help the homeless get their lives back on track. Included in Chadwick's master plan is a child-care center for homeless children, free dental services, food and clothing banks, job training and placement for adults. "We intend to take a holistic approach to the problems of homeless families," she said.
With these goals in mind, Chadwick's first fund-raiser for her organization is set for May 14, and is being organized by comedian Kathy Buckley, president of Harmony Project's board of directors. The event is titled "Comedy for Harmony." Ten comedy clubs throughout Los Angeles will host a special evening of entertainment.
Among the clubs set to participate are L.A. Cabaret, the Ice House, the Improvisation in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, and Igby's. Chadwick said this is the first time that Los Angeles' major comedy clubs have come together on one night for a single cause. The proceeds from all admissions will be directly donated to the Harmony Project
During the Harmony Project's embryonic stage, Chadwick set about formulating the main goals of her organization. Then she quit her job of 12 years, where she had worked first as a technical illustrator and later as an art director. That was in April, 1989. Next, she took the $32,000 she had received from a real estate transaction and invested it in her project. Then it was time to set to work.
With longtime friend Judy Torres of Palos Verdes, Chadwick began researching the feasibility of her brainstorm. The two women spent several months completing the forms required for the Harmony Project to become a nonprofit organization. This included drawing up a budget for a proposed child-care center that will offer services to 75 homeless children. The project gained nonprofit status in February.
Their board of directors includes a screenwriter, a public relations expert and an accountant. Actress Susan Dey of "L.A. Law" has agreed to become an honorary board member. "But we're still looking for an attorney," Chadwick said.
Chadwick's Harmony Project comes as the homeless crisis continues to escalate. Although figures on the homeless population in Los Angeles County vary, a recent study conducted in part by the Shelter Partnership, a nonprofit support group, estimates that at any given time during the year, there are 50,000 homeless people in L.A. County, many of them mothers and children. The United Way estimates that children account for 25% of the homeless population.
What's more, the Shelter Partnership's study also found that Los Angeles County homeless shelters, which offer about 6,300 beds a night, are turning away about 1,800 people each day and have been forced to substantially reduce other programs, including child-care, job referral and apartment placement.
Advocates for the homeless put the blame on Gov. George Deukmejian for vetoing the distribution of $3 million in funds that had been set aside by the Legislature to assist California's shelters with daily operating costs.
The Los Angeles Board of Education acknowledged the growing problem of homeless children when it approved a $70,000 pilot program in September. The project, which will be conducted at the Coeur D'Alene Avenue School in Venice with funds supplied by the Greater Los Angeles Partnership for the Homeless, a private, nonprofit agency, will provide individualized instruction, counseling and social services for the homeless students.
The Greater Los Angeles Partnership contends that many of Los Angeles' homeless children do not attend school regularly and have been deprived of a stable environment. Thus, many of them are two to three grade levels behind children of the same age who have homes, and subsequently need special attention.
Chadwick hopes to help combat these problems head-on once the Harmony Project is in full gear. She and Torres will strive to raise $1 million.
But in the meantime, Chadwick has been networking with other organizations that assist the homeless. Among the groups she has spent time with are FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity), Lutheran Social Services and L.A. Family Housing, the parent company of Valley Shelter. The last organization, which among other achievements helps the homeless find transitional and permanent housing, plans to work with the Harmony Project to provide child-care services.