Seventeen years ago, Letty Gali arrived at a fourplex in the community of Placentia to help a family whose son was falling behind in school and being courted by local gangs.
It was a Tuesday, and when she arrived, she found a run-down complex and a gaggle of kids playing ball at the end of the cul-de-sac. Most of them were in middle school or close to entering high school and about to face the next chapter of their young lives.
In a neighborhood strife with gangs, parents who didn’t have time, and a school system that left kids behind, this time of their lives could be a challenge.
Gali did what was most natural for her – she started to play ball with the kids. Stickball, soccer, kickball, baseball – anything that allowed her to create a bond with the kids in the community so she could learn what kind of help they needed to stay out of trouble.
What the kids wanted most was help with homework.
“It all started with a couple chairs, some card tables, and a sidewalk in front of this fourplex on Cypress Street that allowed us to become a hub,” Gali said. “I came here to meet a kid who needed help, and that’s how it all started. I began to invest in this family’s life, and then I met the other kids, and I just started to build trust with them.”
The Homework Club on Cypress Street was the first to start the domino effect of what would become LOT318, a nonprofit spearheaded by Gali and Savana Beal. The apartment complex became a fixture for the community and for Gali, who bonded with the residents and owner of the building, who allowed her to store supplies and use the sidewalk for 14 years.
LOT318 has since expanded and has opened a handful of Homework Clubs throughout the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. The nonprofit organization has more than five programs in place with 45 active students, who now ask themselves, “what college am I going to attend?” and “what career do I want?”
Today, Gali is hoping to take LOT318 to the next step by purchasing the apartment complex, which has hit the real estate market for $1.4 million. Gali and LOT318 need an additional $200,000 to renovate the units and property, which would improve the quality of life for the residents who will continue to live on Cypress Street.
Gali’s hope is to buy the complex so the Cypress Street Homework Club can have a permanent place to call their own.
“We have been at this location for 17 years; this is our hub. We feel like having our roots in this community really makes a statement to the community that we are here to stay,” Gali said. “If someone else purchases this building we will probably lose our hub. I can’t fathom not being here.”
LOT318 has stepped outside of its altruistic comfort zone and has 7 weeks to raise money to buy the building. They’ve been reaching out to members, making calls, encouraging donations from its website, and putting together a special event that will help them raise the funds they need to buy complex.
“It’s overwhelming trying to do this, but we want people to understand that we are invested in the community,” Gali said.
Gali met with Soo Kang, Executive Director of the North Orange County Public Safety Collaborative, in 2017. The newly formed Collaborative included cities, police departments, and community-based organizations (CBOs) that would coordinate services in the areas of homelessness, youth violence prevention, and intervention; and enhance post-incarceration re-entry support.
State Sen. Josh Newman led the effort which secured the original state budget grant of $20 million that created funding for four years. This began a highly effective partnership between the Collaborative and more than 50 CBOs, including LOT318, who joined together to respond to community needs.
The results have been so promising federal officials recently awarded the Collaborative an additional $8 million and $5 million to expand services.
For LOT318, this partnership allowed the street-side Homework Club to find its wings.
“We couldn’t have done this without the Collaborative,” Gali said. “It allowed us to restructure our board from four to eight active participants. Because of the Collaborative we were able to get the exposure and resources we needed to grow. The workshops they gave us empowered me to get a strong board, and once we did that – it was a game changer.”
For Marco Ramirez, the Homework Club changed his life. He lived in the complex Gali seeks to buy today, and he remembers meeting her that first Tuesday. She asked if she could play with them, and he recalls she just kept coming back – for three years. She showed up, talked to them, asked them about school, their day, and what they wanted to accomplish in life.
The latter was a question Ramirez had never really considered. In the neighborhood there were often just two paths: graduate high school and get a job or join a gang.
After high school, Ramirez decided to run the Homework Club on Cypress Street, and it was here, in the neighborhood he grew up in, that he learned that he wanted to do more in life. He became the program director for the Homework Club, took kids on outings, went on college tours with high school students, and started to pursue college.
“LOT318 completely turned my life around,” said Ramirez, who now helps run a catering company and still keeps in close contact with Gali and LOT318. “I was heading toward a bumpier path. My life at that point was, I was a drug addict, I was getting expelled from high school, every school I went to I was the troublemaker. I wasn’t gang affiliated, but I hung out with the wrong crowd. So, when Letty came around, talking to me about change, I thought, “why not try?”
For more information on LOT318 and to donate for the cause, please go to http://lot318.com/ or scan the code.