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Meet Seth Eklund of Bresee Foundation in Rampart Village, K-town, Mid-Wilshire, Westlake

Today we’d like to introduce you to Seth Eklund.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Seth. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The son of a Minister who dedicated over 30 years of his life to the St. Mark’s Lutheran congregation on 36th & Vermont, across the street from USC in South Central, and a teacher who devoted 40 years of her life to teaching in inner-city schools, it’s no surprise I find myself having served the last, over 20 years in the non-profit sector at Bresee Foundation just a stones throw west of Downtown LA. Growing up in Mid-City, and shaped by LA institutions such as the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (go Unicorns!), Loyola High School (men for others), and UCLA (first to 100), I am a proud Angeleno who loves the richness and diversity of background, thought, religion, and culture our city bleeds. No other place like it.

After my first five years, from ’96-’01, as an Education Coordinator at Bresee, a tiny youth program on the 3rd floor of the LA First Church of the Nazarene, I got married to my college sweetheart. My partner & I both quit our jobs, me from Bresee and she from MGM, and we spent a year and a half traveling around the world through the South Pacific, Asia, and Europe. Biggest education of our lives. Traveling right after 9/11 was eye-opening. Upon return, while most of my friends were jumping into careers the entertainment industry, which is what you do in LA, I made the conscious decision to devote myself to social justice. I called Jeff Carr, Bresee’s ED, who would later be Mayor Villaraigosa’s first Gang Czar, and asked if I could return to serve.

17 years later, I find myself the Executive Director of Bresee, a non-profit that serves over 3,500 youth, adults, and seniors annually through after-school programs, family services, and gang prevention. Grateful, that our tiny, grass-roots non-profit is able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those we serve because of the incredible community partners, staff, and folks who support the work. This is what long-term community transformation looks like.

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?
Hands down, the biggest struggle was taking over a small non-profit which had already been having financial challenges, as Interim ED, in January 2009, just months after the great recession hit. Your community is struggling, and all the Foundations, Government, and Individual Donors who support the work are all giving less because they’ve been hit hard. I had to lay 5 of our staff members, one quarter of our crew (all friends of mine), put the Admin staff down to 75% salary for 18 months, and decide which of the necessary programs we’d have to shut down in order to survive. I didn’t sleep well for over a year. Really a learning lesson for the times we’re in right now and all the businesses and non-profits who are currently in jeopardy of closing. Yet, out of the ashes, we rebuilt slowly. One of those staff, we laid off, volunteered the whole year, and was rehired when we get got back on our feet a year later. Has been our Athletics Coordinator for a total of 17 years. Another turned the obstacle into an opportunity to further his education and get his degree from UCLA and is now back as our Gang Prevention Director for the last five years.

Please tell us about Bresee Foundation.
Our first class, 15,000 square community center just on the border of K-town serves over 3,500 clients a year through 3 programs: After-school programs, Family Services, and Gang Prevention. We’re a new model of non-profits throughout LA, called FSC’s or Family Source Centers, that are “one-stop shops” where youth and families can access multiple services at anchor institutions who have served those communities for 40-50 years. All People’s in South LA, El Centro de Ayuda in Boyle Heights, and Watts Labor Community Action Group in Watts, are other examples of the model.

Bresee is known for our belief in long-term community transformation and investing in local youth to become leaders of the community. More than 1/3 of our 50 staff are former youth who’ve gone on to college and come back to Bresee to serve. Our core programs, like the 50 High School youth who serve in our High School internships annually, all follow the same model, where youth go from being served to serving others in their community. Hence the ripple effect of so many youth who leave Bresee’s doors and go on to make lasting impacts on LA’s next generation of youth. (Alan Carillo ex. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9trASIkH5gw)

I’m personally most proud of two things. This year, we’re approaching having raised and distributed over $1 million in college scholarships over the last 20 years to well over 200 alumni. And that in a world of so much transition, change, and turnover, we have our four Program Directors, who’ve each served over a decade, and multiple other staff who are former Bresee Youth who have served the community for over 15 years. A rock in a river.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Not sure if it’s my favorite or my most impactful. After running away from home at age 13 (from literally one of the most loving families in the world), I returned after a couple of days distraught. A member of my church, James Joseph, an electrician, who had three kids of his own, took it upon himself, to come pick me up from LACES after-school, drive me to his house in South Central, lift weights with me, and provide me a platform to express my feelings. A mentor, outside of my family, who cared about me enough to spend time with me, motivate me to get in shape and pursue my goals of playing soccer in high school, and gave me just the little push I needed to overcome my doubts and fears at the time.

Pricing:

  • All programs are free.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Bresee Foundation
    184 S. Bimini Place
    LA CA 90004
  • Website: www.bresee.org
  • Phone: 12133872822
  • Email: info@bresee.org
  • Instagram: @BreseeLA
  • Facebook: BreseeFoundation
  • Twitter: @breseela

Image Credit:
Michael Weschler, Pedro Espinosa

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