Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Payback, With Heart

April 27, 2002

Rooster tails of sawdust will fly and a thumb or two will no doubt turn painfully purple as more than 200 saw- and hammer-wielding mothers, fathers and kids swarm over a lot in San Pedro this morning to pay back a debt.

Toberman Settlement House, one of Los Angeles' oldest and quietest private social service agencies, wants to replace its worn-out buildings in San Pedro with four new structures. It's starting today by constructing a swing set and jungle gym with a hand from those whom Toberman has already helped. The agency, which serves more than 14,000 poor residents each year, will also need help from wealthy donors. But to get the rebuilding campaign rolling, families whose lives it has steadied will spend the weekend building a new playground.

Nearly 100 years ago, Los Angeles Mayor James Toberman and his wife, Emma, founded the settlement house in memory of their son, who died at 29. The mission opened in 1903 in Echo Park, offering health care, delinquency prevention programs and a residence for single women. It moved to San Pedro's Barton Hill neighborhood in 1937, but its goal remained the same: to help local residents "grow toward moral, spiritual and economic independence."

Run by the United Methodist Church, Toberman is a splendid example of how faith-based initiatives should work. Toberman stretches its $2-million budget far, providing emergency food and clothing to 1,000 families each month and training more than 300 former welfare recipients for jobs in construction and other trades. Kids who have had trouble with the law get help dealing with their problems; most have not been rearrested. Street counselors help keep the peace among harbor area gangs. After-school volunteers help more than 100 kids a day with homework or let them blow off steam on the soccer field, teach them to make lanyards or take them to Dodger games. Add to this a summer day camp, a preschool, psychological counseling, parenting help and a senior citizens club.

Toberman's Methodist affiliation gives it moral grounding, but it is not a religious straitjacket. No one has to pray in order to get food or shoot hoops, and there is no religious focus to the agency's programs. Toberman's executive director is Jewish and its clientele largely Roman Catholic.

The agency's guiding principle is that families in need of help should get it. Some 200 parents and kids whom Toberman counselors have helped say they will show up early this morning to prepare the playground for a new generation of needy families. What a nice way to say thank you.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|