By Gil Milanes
Political science professor Maria Lou Calanche works to leave a legacy for the youth in Ramona Gardens Housing projects owned by the City of Los Angeles, the community where she grew up.
Once she is done teaching at East Los Angeles College as a full-time professor, Calanche continues what most people would consider a second full-time job at Legacy L.A.
The organization has been serving the community for nine years and Calanche serves as the executive director.
Legacy L.A. is a non-profit organization that helps students, middle school through high school, stay away from the streets. The organization helps them become better students and encourages them to be leaders in their own communities.
Legacy L.A. works directly with high schools around the area in order to help students graduate.
“We created a partnership with some of the schools where we take the bottom 50 to mentor them, take them to college trips, show them things outside their community,” Calanche said.
The idea to start Legacy L.A. began when Calanche went back to her community in 2007. Calanche said she found out that Ramona Gardens was still the same poor community with very few resources for the city residents.
Calanche met with a group of parents from an elementary school to figure out what the community needed.
Some of the feedback that Calanche received from parents was that they would be happy if their kids didn’t get shot, start drinking or using drugs or simply if their kids didn’t join a gang.
“People had lost hope. It was really sad for me. We had to do something in this neighborhood,” Calanche said.
Calanche decided to change her position teaching at ELAC from full-time to part-time in order to fully commit and dedicate herself to Legacy L.A.
An abandoned army building became available near Hazard Park and Calanche was able to acquire the building from the City of Los Angeles to use the space for Legacy L.A.
She has raised $3 million since 2008 to renovate the building that is home to Legacy L.A.
Construction will begin this summer and is expected to be complete by next year.
Calanche’s main focuses for Legacy L.A. are to offer tutoring for students, “create after-school programs and figure out a way to create a relationship between the cops and residents, since there was a lot of tension back then,’’ Calanche said.
Calanche believes that exposing the teens to a world outside their community can encourage them to realize that there is hope out there.
Jaqueline Velazquez is a high school freshman student who attends Legacy L.A. Velazquez has been attending the youth organization for four months now and visits the center at least three times a week.