The City Lights Gateway Foundation is a nonprofit community organization based in Harbor City, California. In October 2019, they established their own food pantry and started providing food boxes to 50 families per week. With the economic hardships imposed upon the community by COVID-19, that number has quadrupled. They still provide for their community, but depleted financial resources mean they pay for everything out of pocket.
We interviewed treasurer Kym Graham-Scott about the City Lights Gateway Foundation and their passion for communities.
Swyft Filings: Tell us about the City Lights Gateway Foundation. What’s your mission, and what inspired you to champion this cause?
Kym Graham-Scott: Our mission is to “build opportunities in the communities.” Community is what drives us. We grew up in the very same communities we now serve, and we aim to make positive changes in communities near and far.
We want to give back the same opportunities that were given to us as youths. City Lights dedicates itself to championing the rights and goals of the people in our community with passion and integrity. We try to inspire optimism in our youth by making a difference. As City Lights president Howard Scott Jr. says, "Team work makes the dream work."
SF: What makes the City Lights Gateway Foundation unique?
Kym: We’re based in the center of Council District 15 in Los Angeles, and we represent the whole collection of cities within our district. We work to connect these communities. Prior to our existence, no one was advocating to bridge community voices.
SF: What are City Lights’ core values? How do you put these values into action?
Kym: We’re motivated by the outcome, not the income. Our primary areas of interest include youth empowerment, community development, family resources, and civic pride.
Our daily work is very much “hands-on” and “boots-on-the-ground.” We do urban beautification projects, provide workshops, and host community meetings. We feed the homeless and help seniors, disabled residents, and veterans with daily activities, resources for shelter, and our food pantry. Every year in summer, we hold “Peace & Unity Family Day,” a family-friendly concert in the park.
One of the most fun things we do is take local youth to the Staples Center to watch an LA Sparks game. For the majority of them, it’s their first time visiting the Staples Center. The look on their faces is priceless.
SF: What has been City Lights’ biggest win?
Kym: Our biggest professional win was being voted Nonprofit of The Year for the whole South Bay Area in 2019.
Personally, the most satisfying thing for us has just been watching cities near and far transition into unified communities. We love seeing the ripple effect of our work, how it inspires others to reach out. We like to say, “If you can reach one, you can teach one.”
SF: How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your mission? What are you doing to compensate?
Kym: While we’ve embraced the shelter-in-place and social distancing of COVID-19, we still try to keep our hands-on approach and satisfy the needs of our communities as best we can.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has hit the community hard, and Harbor City residents are experiencing financial hardships. Our food pantry provides meals to seniors, disabled residents, homebound individuals, veterans, and families who have more sensitive needs.
Before coronavirus, our food pantry was serving 50 families per week. Now, it’s grown to over 200. We also offer a drive-thru food box service to encourage social distancing. We still operate to provide for our community, but COVID-19 has depleted our financial resources, leaving us to fund everything out of pocket. Expenditures include food, fuel, truck rental, and personal protective equipment to ensure safe food handling.
SF: What do you hope the organization will achieve in the next year? The next five years?
Kym: In the next year, we would like to find more independent workspace so City Lights can continue to serve our growing communities. In the long term, we’re looking into forming partnerships with civic-minded corporations and businesses to help in our mission for hope and positive change.
SF: What achievements are you most proud of?
Kym: The project we loved was building a state-of-the-art skate park with and for local youth. The youth actually helped draft, craft, and build their own skate park.
The project that we are most proud of was our Hurricane Harvey Relief Drive. In 2017, The City Lights Gateway Foundation partnered with Everport Shipping and International Longshore and Warehouse Union locals 13, 26, 63, and 94 to help out communities in Texas impacted by Harvey.
The community support was incredible. Thanks to all of our friends and family, we managed to raise almost 80 tons of supplies crammed into four 40-foot shipping containers.
Without the help of family members, this mission wouldn’t have been possible. Pops Howard Scott, who is also the original founder and guitarist of the band War, and Moms Jennifer Scott and Demetria Jackson-Black are all Texas residents. They went on a search to help us find an organization to donate the items we collected. After two weeks of trying to locate an organization, we got in touch with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center in Dallas.
By way of Southern Counties trucking company, we shipped two containers to the MLK Center. The other containers were transported to Talento Bilingüe de Houston and a Houston-area church. The MLK Center presented us with a humanitarian award to thank us for our contributions.
Texas is a long way from LA, but building connections between communities near and far is what we do. We collect the dots to connect the dots.
SF: Do you have a message to share with readers?
Kym: The fastest way to change a life is with opportunity.
As a Houston-based company, Swyft Filings is profoundly grateful to our California friends at City Lights for their Hurricane Relief Drive as well as the work they do to build opportunities in communities. We are proud to pay back their kindness with a Swyft Gives Back Grant. If you want to help support the City Lights Gateway Foundation too, you can donate on their Facebook page.