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Club Provides Textbook Cases of Philanthropy

For most of its 110 years, a Los Angeles women's group has given scholarships to high-achieving but low-income students.

September 12, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

For 10 years, Laura Robles has held two jobs while raising three children, working toward her bachelor's degree and planning for law school.

The juggling of work, school and child-rearing weighed on the single mother. Her financial load got lighter, though, when she received a scholarship from Ebell of Los Angeles, a women's group that has been helping people like Robles since the 1900s.

Last month at a ceremony at the club's Hancock Park headquarters, Robles, 36, received a portion of the $3,000 scholarship from Ebell, which will help her finish undergraduate work at Woodbury University.

"I would be struggling without the scholarship," said Robles, a Mission Hills resident. "Now I can just save up for my law degree."

Robles was one of 105 students who received $2,500 or $3,000 scholarships from the 500-member women's club, which was established in 1894.

Students are required to have a grade point average of 3.25 or better, be U.S. citizens, attend a Los Angeles County school, and give back to their community in some way.

Robles' contribution to the community is her dedication to her family, work and education.

Robles works as a courtroom assistant at the Santa Monica Courthouse. She is known as a floater, working in courtrooms all over West Los Angeles as needed.

Twice a week, Robles works as a matron for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, tending to newly arrived female inmates. She enrolled in a Sheriff's Department program at Woodbury University two years ago. She had previously attended community college.

The Woodbury class is small, with only 10 students, and specialized. Robles' major is organizational leadership, a combination of business management, business administration and public administration.

Classes, held at sheriff's headquarters, run in seven-week cycles, every Thursday night for 2 1/2 years.

"I've always been a go-getter, a high achiever," Robles said after the Ebell ceremony. Robles was accompanied by her youngest daughter, Larissa, 15, who is often mistaken for Robles' sister. Robles has two other children, David, 16, and Francine, 19, who attends Citrus Community College in Glendora.

Robles aspires to be a research attorney for the Los Angeles Superior Court. Robles, who found out about the scholarship after searching online, said her experience with the Ebell organization was so positive that she hoped to join it and help others after earning her law degree.

Membership is, as always, by invitation only. Although Ebell was founded by women who wanted their own organization -- like their husbands with their men-only clubs -- men can now join. The club has 15 male members, mostly spouses. They cannot, however, vote or serve on the board.

Ebell scholarships originally were for women only because it was a women-only club, but now men are eligible.

At first, the club organized its own classes in such subjects as music, art and history. After World War I, club members, feeling the need to give back to the community, began awarding scholarships to women.

"The idea of education on the West Coast was a dangerous thing at the time," said member Patty Hill. She leaned in and added, "You could learn about communism."

Funds for the scholarship were originally raised through dividends from club dues. The organization's philanthropy blossomed when, in 1927, Charles N. Flint and his wife, whose first name could not be found in club records, started a trust with $40,000, and required men to be included as recipients of the money.

The trust, invested by money managers, has grown to more than $6 million.

After the scholarship award ceremony last month, some of the members gathered in the lounge in the entrance of the Ebell club's Italian Renaissance-style complex. Beneath an elaborate and gilded ceiling, the women chatted.

Hill, a five-year member of the club, lives in Hancock Park and discovered the organization when she became curious about its landmark building. The 49-year-old, who serves on the board of directors, was inspired by the history of the club and women banding together to create their own space.

"This was, in the words of Virginia Woolf, a room of one's own" for women, said Hill, who works in public relations for a clothing retailer.

Laura Wong, a sophomore at USC, was the fourth woman in her family to receive a scholarship from Ebell, following her mother and aunts. Each majored in music, though Wong's mother, Mary Frances Wong, was a Bruin and her daughter a Trojan.

The 19-year-old pianist, who has volunteered playing music for seniors since high school, hopes to build school and community music programs for youth orchestras and symphonies. "I want to draw children into music," Wong said.

At USC, she has organized children's performances at retirement homes. "It gives [the children] comfort with performing and brings it to people who can't get out."

Wong also received a merit scholarship from USC, a school that estimates yearly costs for undergraduates at $42,514.

"That and this Ebell scholarship are enabling me to go there," Wong said.

"I'll have my daughter apply. We have to be part of this great tradition."

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