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Meet Ashleigh Parsons of Akasa in East Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashleigh Parsons.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ashleigh. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was born and raised in NJ. I moved west after college and my first job was working in San Francisco as a Program Coordinator at a free after-school program in the Tenderloin.

I was always interested in education but from a holistic point of view. I seemed to be more curious about how students were feeling in their bodies than how they were performing on their report cards.

One Saturday, I took 25 of my student’s ages 6 to 18 to the Ferry Market farmers market for a field trip. I saw how they responded to the fresh produce, the seasonal pears, the honey sticks. That memory stayed with me, but it would be a few years until I could figure out what to make of that experience. Soon after San Francisco, I spent some time in France working at a Michelin starred restaurant learning service and the intricacies of a restaurant of that caliber.

Eventually, I decided to pursue my Master’s from Harvard University in Psychology where I was doing research on wellness in the school system. I quickly learned that I craved a more creative and fast-paced environment than what academia offered. So I moved back west and co-founded a restaurant called Alma that was located in downtown LA and named Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit in 2013.

During this time I learned a lot – about myself, about Los Angeles and about business. In tandem with Alma, I founded my nonprofit Akasa, which is now in its 5th year. Akasa is a nonprofit that teaches a wellness curriculum to low-income youth and families in LA. After Alma, I worked with Jon & Vinny’s Restaurant Group as Service Director only to discover that I no longer wanted to work in restaurants.

This past month, I switched gears into consulting, where I’m focusing on working with small businesses in the realm of fashion and food. Akasa continues to grow and thrive thanks to the community of Los Angeles. I’m very curious and inspired to see what is on the horizon for the budding organization.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Haha, no, not really. In my 20s I was fearless, which was not always beneficial. I often dove in before thinking, which had ramifications later on in my life. If I could give my young self-advice (or other young people out there), I would say that yes, you should believe in yourself and yes, you should believe in your vision, but before you take the plunge, lean into your friends, your family, your community of support and incubate your idea, craft your business plan.

Creativity is a beautiful virtue, but it must be coupled with discernment and care in order to thrive. I would also say (especially to women) trust your gut because I think too often we disregard our own intuition, which can be our most powerful tool, especially when it comes to creating an enterprise.

Please tell us about Akasa.
Akasa – my nonprofit – administers a weekly wellness curriculum to low-income youth and families in Los Angeles. We work with about 250 students youth ages 6 to 18 on a weekly basis and address issues of environmental justice, food deserts, health + wellness, seasonality and sustainability, and most of all community. We’re known for the community.

I think I’m most proud of the team behind Akasa – mostly women – who work tirelessly and at a level that is unparalleled to provide the highest level of education and curriculum to our youth and families.

I think what sets us apart from other organizations is the quality, care, and level of expertise that we bring to the table.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel was essential to your success?
Listening to my gut.

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