FOUNDER

This letter is dedicated to all my friends that have been part of the greatest gift of my life “A Place Called Home,” and to Jonathan Zeichner, the man that has continued to follow and build on my dream… I will always be so grateful to you all for your love and caring.

Debrah ConstanceMay 1993 was the start: 12 children walked into a South Central church directly across from Jefferson High School and planted the seed that would be the birth of a safe haven for the thousands of children that followed in their footsteps for the next 20 years.  The question that people always ask me is “how and why was A Place Called Home conceived?”  The purpose of this letter is to give you that answer.

In 1988 I went with my son, Gideon, and saw “Stand and Delliver” a movie most of you have probably seen (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it).  It was a drama based on the life of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who changed the lives of hundreds of children.  I was very moved by that story… and 2 days later a full page ad appeared in the Los Angeles Times featuring gifted teachers from across California.  At the bottom left hand corner of the page, a teacher named Roland Ganges from Jefferson High School in downtown L.A. was featured.  I read his story and that was the start of A Place Called Home.

At that time I was vice president of the Jon Douglas Realty Company.  We had 30 offices and hundreds of brokers; I was Marketing/Advertising Director and was also in charge of giving Jon Douglas funding out to local schools and charities that were sponsored by each of the 30 offices.  I went to my boss, Jon Douglas, and said “instead of funding the rich kids in Brentwood who don’t really need it, why don’t we fund a teacher in the inner city, which would help hundreds of children that are in desperate need…. Mr. Douglas said “ok,” and that very day I sent Roland Ganges at Jefferson High School a basket of Snookies Cookies… I sent them directly to his classroom with a note that said “Mr Douglas wants to help you.”

A week later, Roland called me and said,  “I don’t want his money, I want your time!”  What he wanted was for me to get involved with the children in his classroom and school and to exposing them to the world outside of South Central.  What happened in the next 5 years changed not only my life, but  also the lives of the real estate brokers that joined me, and most importantly, the lives of dozens of teens in South Central.

I had seniors at Jefferson High School join me in all the boards I was on; the National Councils of Jewish Women, Alternative Living for the Aging, Clare Foundation; and they helped me feed seniors and put on events– I remember “Workout for the HOMELESS” and several other events.  Then we started a mentoring program pairing up brokers and the children and I had the realization of my life: “One person helping another person brings about a psychic change.”

Over the years, I don’t know who benefited more, me and the brokers, or the children, but from those experiences emerged the mission of A Place Called Home before it even existed and before I really knew what a mission statement was.  So, I fell in love with the children and started to understand who I really am.

One day I met with David Crippens, Vice president of KCET who was a partner with Jon Douglas, and I told him I had decided to change jobs.  And he asked me “what do you really want to do with your life?”  Do you know, nobody had ever asked me that question before – I don’t think I had ever even asked myself that question.  But, my answer came out immediately – as strong and clear as anything I’d ever said: “All I really want to do is open a safe house for the children at Jefferson High School.”  By that time, the need was huge because of the Rodney King incident.  All the schools in South Central were being locked down at 3pm and there was no place  for the children to go.  They were getting shot and being put in the ground every week.  David Crippens said. “Then do it.”  And I panicked.  I said “no, I can’t because I dont have the education.”  I told him I was a high school dropout.  I said that I was sure you had to be a teacher to do something like that…

Mr. Crippens looked me in the eye and said, “You can do it.  And, you must do it.”  He gave me a laundry list on how to get started and what to do and the next day I went to my dear boss, Jon Douglas and told him I was resigning after 15 years working for him.  He listened and thought, and said, “If that’s what you need to do, then do it with my love and blessing.”  That magnificent man gave me severance pay of $50,000… and that is why and how I started A Place Called Home.

To all of you, the many friends of A Place Called Home who have helped make my dream come true, I say thank you!   The children bless you… and there is nothing more powerful and healing and beautiful than that.

With all my love,

   Debrah

Here’s an interview with Debrah reflecting on APCH’s 20th anniversary.

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