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HEARTS of the CITY

A Greater Good

L.A. Works Is Helping to Build a Community, One Volunteer at a Time

May 14, 1997|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's Tuesday night and a group of would-be volunteers are hanging out between the computer resource and personal finance sections of a La Cienega Boulevard bookstore.

This multicultural group of young and old men and women didn't come to buy "DOS for Dummies." They are here for a monthly orientation session to learn more about how they can give something back to a city known more for alienating than embracing. To learn how they can give true meaning to Los Angeles--the City of Angels.

Or, more specifically, to be a part of L.A. Works--a 6-year-old nonprofit organization established to turn this sprawling city into a community, through volunteer activities.

Founded by a concerned group of entertainment industry notables, including Richard Dreyfuss, shortly before the 1992 riots, L.A. Works attempts to blur the lines of social class and race by bringing residents together for the collective good of Los Angeles.

Each month, organizers set up a potpourri of more than 30 worthwhile activities across Los Angeles to which volunteers can donate their minds, bodies and time. Members of the loosely organized volunteer corps receive a brochure in the mail listing the various opportunities to choose from--limited only by their availability and interests.

Activities in a given month include helping students in South-Central with their reading, making crafts with runaway teenagers at a shelter in MacArthur Park, reading bedtime stories to children suffering from AIDS, or dishing up dinner to the homeless at the Los Angeles Mission.

Volunteers also help dozens of nonprofit groups and schools with renovations and projects such as tree plantings and graffiti removal.

L.A. Works was established with three goals: increase volunteer participation in community service projects; provide a labor force and resources to community service organizations; and educate and encourage people to help solve the problems that face Los Angeles.

"First and foremost the issue that we face is a lack of connectedness," said Executive Director Tanner Methvin. "People treat L.A. like it's just the place where they live, but it's a community. We try to foster a sense of community, one neighborhood at a time."

In addition to individual activities, interactive events such as mentoring and reading programs allow volunteers who can commit to a project for three months to work on a one-on-one basis with inner-city children who have limited resources.

Facility-related projects, such as renovating schools or painting shelters for the homeless, provide effective results for organizations that don't have the money or manpower to fix things.

Over the years, more than 50,000 people have participated in L.A. Works projects.

"I feel like just doing a little bit helps a lot," said James Cremin, 43, an L.A. Works volunteer who participated in an environmental project that took youngsters to Venice Beach and the San Gabriel Mountains to learn about nature and the importance of keeping the environment clean. "They are our future."

Like many nonprofit organizations, L.A. Works is funded in part through corporate donations and grants.

Companies such as Sony and AT&T give the group a donation, and in return L.A. Works sets up a volunteer opportunity for the company and its employees.

In addition, L.A. Works raises money at its annual L.A. Works Day--scheduled for this Saturday.

Organizers have billed the event, scheduled to start at Manual Arts High School at 8 a.m., as the largest volunteer service event in the history of Los Angeles. More than 4,000 people are expected to take part in the dozens of projects set up in 15 neighborhoods throughout the city.

Volunteers will paint 22 murals, plant 8,000 trees and renovate more than 30 buildings. They will also build community gardens, clean up graffiti and build bookshelves and storage space for several schools.

To raise funds, volunteers collect pledges from sponsors for the five hours that they work on the community service projects.

Many of the 18 people who have turned out for the monthly orientation, held the first Tuesday of each month, plan to take part in the massive volunteer effort this week. They include teachers, people in the entertainment industry and bankers--all looking for an opportunity to get involved.

"It's a wonderful way to meet people," said Marty Heebner of Sherman Oaks, who plans to participate in L.A. Works with the Cornell University Alumni Assn.

"It's also a really constructive way to spend free time and learn a lot."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Beat

Today's centerpiece focuses on L.A. Works, a nonprofit organization that sponsors more than 30 volunteer activities per month. The group will hold its annual fund-raiser, L.A. Works Day, this Saturday. For information about the fund-raiser, call (888)-LAWORKS. For information about volunteer opportunities, call (213) 936-1340.

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