The Center’s Clients, Staff, Supporters, and Community Bring the New Anita May Rosenstein Campus to Life.
By Greg Hernandez
THERE’S NOT A SINGLE OPEN SEAT INSIDE the dining room of the Center’s Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center where lunch is about to be served on a hot August day at the Anita May Rosenstein Campus.
“If you build it, they will come,” remarked Steven Abeyta, a senior who now eats at the Campus at least three times a week and has begun taking classes there. “You can’t miss this new Campus. It’s just calling out my name, and I’m answering.”
Open since April, the new Campus brings together a multitude of youth and senior services in a unified setting across nearly one full city block.
In addition to the new Senior Center, the intergenerational Campus also includes a youth drop-in center, 99 beds for youth experiencing homelessness, The Ariadne Getty Foundation Youth Academy, and the Center’s administrative offices.
Just a stone’s throw away from where Abeyta and the other seniors are eating, the same meal of teriyaki burgers, sweet potato fries, and coleslaw is being served at the youth drop-in center.
The food is prepared by youth and senior clients enrolled in the new Culinary Arts program. They prepare 10,000 meals each month, including 450 meals a day for youth and seniors as well as food for special events at the Campus.
Since the Campus opening, visits by senior clients have increased more than 30 percent. To meet the demand, weekday programming was expanded to Saturdays and new classes—like Sculptural Storytelling and Sound Bowl Therapy— were added.
“We really kicked our programming up a notch as we moved into the new space,” said Kiera Pollock, director of senior services. “This new Campus makes a tremendous difference for us in terms of really being able to expand our programming to meet the needs of our seniors, who had been asking for more things to be available more frequently.”
Seniors are now issued an ID card which they use to check in each time they arrive onto the Campus for a class, program, meal, or to use any of the services. They also now have access to free drop-in showers and laundry facilities during the week.
“If they are a new participant, they can register, get an ID card, eat lunch, get a shower, do laundry, and meet a case manager on the same day,” Pollock explained.
“The place is buzzing and the classes are busier,” observed Lauren Peterson, who teaches a popular senior tap dancing class and is a Senior Services client herself. “The Campus and new lunch program have attracted a lot more people. Now you can get a cup of coffee in the dining room, and there’s a lounge upstairs where people are on their computers. There are places to hang out and just be with each other.”
The free hot lunch has led to classes before and after the lunch hour becoming particularly popular. Some members of the Men’s Social Group have even stopped going to a local Denny’s on Wednesday mornings so they can eat in the dining room after their meetings.
“The lunch made by the Culinary students is a work of brilliance,” remarked senior Howard Casner. “It’s one of the greatest ideas I’ve ever come across. There hasn’t been a single bad lunch. The meals are more interesting and much better than whatever I was having before.”
Pollock pointed out that “this could be the only meal that many of our seniors have with other people.”
“It really provides a social connection,” she added. “And what’s made a difference is the folks who are serving lunch are our seniors who are in the Culinary Arts program with our youth. The people in the program explain what they made and how they made it. I’ve seen folks clap and thank them for the food.”
More and more youth are also seeking services at the Campus with notable increases across all programs, from the youth drop-in services to employment and education programs.
“The engagement of the young people has definitely increased,” said Children, Youth & Family Services Director Simon Costello. “We have new resources and this beautiful Campus brings a new energy to the work that we’re doing. Young people are feeling much more involved, and they see positive opportunities for themselves that they want to pursue.”
Youth member Olivia described the Campus as “pretty dope.”
“It’s a place where you can come and get stuff done and do what you have to do,” she said. “I graduated high school through the education program, did bartending school through the employment program, and started college in late August. The goal is to set myself up to not need services here anymore and make room for other people.”
Above the youth drop-in center on the Campus is The Ariadne Getty Foundation Youth Academy, with large rooms dedicated to an employment center, computer center, a classroom for tutoring, media lab, professional music studio, and more.
“It’s for those young people who are ready to take steps in their future, whether it’s personal development, education, or employment,” said Kevin McCloskey, associate director of education and youth development. “Youth come here because they want to move forward in their independence, and our staff, programs, and volunteers are here to support you.”
Programs and services have been expanded to meet the rise in demand, including making tutors available every day and new programs like a Queer Culture 101 discussion and education group, an interactive art group, and a discussion group for youth ages 18 to 24.
“We are giving youth the opportunity to really go for whatever their aspirations are and that can make all the difference sometimes,” said Youth Development Coordinator C.J. Richardson.
Youth Employment Coordinator Marco Magallon observed that the expanded space and large windows in the new Campus location “brings a sense of elevation to the work that we do here.”
“Just for the mental health of our population, it definitely brings a sense of optimism that we’re really excited about,” he said.
Once a month inside the Campus’ Pride Hall, a graduation celebration is held for youth and senior students who have completed the Culinary Arts program. The program is for youth ages 18 to 24 and seniors ages 50 and over. Fifty students are expected to graduate in the first year; 100 graduates expected by year two.
“Our program demonstrates the power of food to unite our intergenerational campus and the community we serve,” said Director of Culinary Training and Operations Nick Panepinto.
The 12-week, 300-hour program consists of four weeks of basic culinary skills development, four weeks of preparing meals for Center clients and events, and a four-week internship at a local restaurant.
“Our senior and youth students come together daily in our kitchen to prepare hundreds of nutritious meals, each made with love and pride,” Panepinto said. “We are excited to see the impact our meals have throughout the Campus, creating a dining experience daily for our members that nourishes both the body and soul.”
There are also plans to launch a monthly intergenerational lunch that brings together the seniors and the youth for a meal inside Pride Hall. Already, the two generations get together for a shared activity twice a month: a Saturday meditation and yoga class.
“It’s been mind-opening to see people who have gone through life in a different time and to all be in a place where we are all so welcomed,” said Michael, a youth who has been a part of programs at the Center for six years.
Added youth Jajuan: “It’s something good to have older minds and younger minds coming together and talking about things.”
In addition to the Children, Youth & Family Services and Senior Services staffs, the Campus is also headquarters for the Center’s Administrative, Finance, Development, Marketing & Communications, Volunteer Resources, and Human Resources departments.
Center Director of Human Resources Sharon Brown finds herself walking throughout the 180,000-square-foot Campus as many as three times each day.
“I walk around before I even start my day or open an email, and I’m just in awe,” said Brown. “To be able to see the clients and to be able to see the help and assistance that we’re giving is remarkable.”
Approximately one-third of the Center’s more than 700 employees now work at the Campus.
“To be able to interact with the staff here in this location, to see what they do on a daily basis and to witness their leadership, it’s been a pleasure,” Brown said. “It’s very impactful and a constant reminder of why I do this and why others do it.”
The significance of the Campus as a beacon of hope for the LGBT community is not lost on Executive Administrator Adriana Rosales, a Center employee for 25 years.
“I honestly could not walk into this building and not get emotional for an entire week after we moved in,” Rosales recalled. “I’ve heard it referred to as a little LGBT city, and that’s exactly what it is. I feel so privileged to have been able to witness this first-hand.”
The open layout of the administrative offices has allowed for easier interaction between departments and employees.
“It’s been great being able to work in a new space and having this open concept,” said Jason Bethel, manager of financial planning and analysis. “It has been really helpful in terms of working more closely with the team. You can just poke your head over a divider and have a quick conversation with someone rather than having to send emails back and forth and things like that. And you can’t beat the window views.”
Working on the Campus has been very gratifying for Security Officer Ricardo Beltran, who is stationed in the lobby of the David Bailey & Ronald Shalowitz Administration Building.
“I’ve been able to speak to lots of different people and see a lot more of our community coming in to do things, like apply for jobs,” Beltran said. “Since we’re on Santa Monica Boulevard, everybody is able to see us. It feels good to work within our community.”
Information Specialist Barry Pett is the first face many people see when they walk through the main entrance of the Campus on McCadden Place.
“It’s been a life changer for me to be part of this Campus,” Pett said. “The energy, the newness, the scope of it all. I’m really excited about what’s happening. I feel more connected to all the things we do here. There’s just so much more that we’re offering to the community now– and that moves me.”
Programs and services from across the organization are utilizing the Campus for special events, including Trans Pride L.A., Circle of Life, Veterans Stand Down, and AIDS/LifeCycle.
Since June, the Center’s Policy and Community Building department has been hosting a series of Democratic Party presidential debate viewing parties inside Pride Hall. The next viewing party, open to the public, is scheduled for October 10 when the candidates will focus specifically on LGBTQ issues.
“The Campus has created a new home for us to be able to convene together to discuss politics and to create community,” said Terra Russell Slavin, director of Policy and Community Building.
Additional office space with large community tables has made it possible for more volunteers to come in and prepare for special events and help with mailings.
“We have increased our volunteer capacity,” said Jeap Barrados, data and logistics coordinator for Volunteer Resources. “We now have afternoons where we have 12 volunteers at the same time. It’s amazing.”
In keeping with the openness of the Campus, the gates of The Village at Ed Gould Plaza—located directly across the street from the Campus—are now open during the day. The Center’s Policy and Community Building department has moved into The Village, which is also home to Cultural Arts, Leadership LAB, AIDS/LifeCycle, Education & Youth Development, and Facilities.
The Campus underground parking garage has once again made parking convenient for those visiting The Village for meetings, classes, and events. During construction of the Campus, evening parking for events at the Renberg Theatre, the Davidson/Valentini Theatre, and The Advocate & Gochis Galleries was scarce.
“It’s been wonderful for our guests to have parking across the street—they are just thrilled,” said Director of Cultural Arts Jon Imparato. “Shows are sold out, and people have said it’s so much easier to come here.”
Later this year the Campus coffee shop will open for business, featuring specialty coffee and grab-and-go food options prepared by the Culinary Arts students. Located on Santa Monica Boulevard and open to the public, the coffee shop will provide employment and training opportunities for LGBT youth and seniors.
Coming in 2020, Phase II of the Campus construction project will include 98 units of senior housing on Campus and 25 micro-units for youth located adjacent to The Village.