By Darlene Donloe
Ever since she was 2 years old, Saundra Bryant has been associated with All Peoples Community Center.
Growing up at a young age, two blocks from the facility located in the Vernon-Central area of the city, Bryant, now 65, went there for daycare. As she got older, she went to all the programs that were offered. During her college breaks, she worked there.
Today, she’s the organization’s executive director, a title she’s held for 38 years.
“I’ve been here my entire life,” said Bryant, a married, mother of one, grandmother of three and great grandmother of one.”
“I majored in social work because of the people that were here and the role they played in my development along with my family,” said Bryant, who studied social work and graduated from Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Tennessee with a degree in social work, administration and planning. “It supported the community and encouraged me. That’s why I went into social work. The opportunity came up to apply for executive director and I took it. I’ve been here ever since.”
Bryant said when she took the position she thought she would be there five years.
“As they say, ‘We plan and God laughs,’” said Bryant. “I’m still here. It’s about giving back to the community that was so instrumental in my life.”
All Peoples Community Center (All Peoples), founded in 1942, is an all-encompassing neighborhood center whose mission is to provide social services and programs that empower individuals and promote community, respect and self-determination for all.
Originally launched by Pastor Dan Genung as a mission center of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), All Peoples evolved and was incorporated as a separate entity from the church in 1966.
“All Peoples is a place where people come and know that we will do all we can to work with them to help them address the issues or concerns they have,” Bryant said. “We are a multi-service agency and if we can’t provide the service, then we work with the person to find other partners to assist them.”
All Peoples offers a myriad of services including after-school programs for students from the first through 12th grade, academic assistance, tutoring, recreation, computer, social development, a college corner staff that provides assistance with completing applications and essays. They also set up college tours.
“We provide all the support they need helping with scholarships,” Bryant said. “We have child care and extended day care. We have a summer youth employment program to give students paid work experience.
“We provide utility and rental assistance, case management, eviction defense services. In fact, everything related to housing. We also help with financial literacy and coaching, parenting. We have a domestic violence support group.
“We do food distribution and we have a retired senior volunteer program, which does a lot in doing wellness checks for seniors to make them aware of the different resources available. We have a community farm where families can grow fresh produce. And during tax season, we provide free tax preparation.
“We are busy. There are some health education classes on family planning, STDs, and HIV prevention workshops for adults and some adolescents with adult approval.”
Services are designed to help children succeed at each stage of development; to strengthen and support individuals and families and build community; to prevent violence and crime in the community and the home; to address the root causes of gang involvement; to provide job training and create job opportunities; to help seniors stay active and engaged.
Depending on the services a resident needs, they have to live in the South Los Angeles Vernon-Central area.
“It depends on the service,” Bryant said. “The majority of the people who come here live in the surrounding community. The service area can expand to Manchester and can expand west to Crenshaw. The key factor is, they need to be a Los Angeles city resident.”
All Peoples, which helps 6,600 annually, is considered the hub of the community, a place people go when other doors have been closed.
“It’s more word of mouth,” Bryant said. “We have been in the community for 80 years. The history of being here — there is a consistency there. People know we’ll be here. They know we aren’t going anywhere.
“Some staff came when they were young. We try to hire individuals from the community. It’s about empowering the community and not doing it for them. We are working with them in partnership. We listen to their voice and we are listening to what they are identifying.”
While there are other community-based organizations doing their part, Bryant believes All Peoples offers something extra.
“What makes All Peoples different is we believe in looking at the assets of individuals and helping them to build on their assets,” she said. “The same is true for our perspective of the community. People in this community are resilient because they have to be and this is our strength.”
Bryant said All Peoples, which has a staff of 40, considers the important needs of the community and figures out together the best way to serve them.
“Some are undocumented,” Bryant said. “Some are the working poor with a limited amount of income. We have people who are recent immigrants or have a long history of living in the community.”
Bryant said the area in which All Peoples is located is primarily residential single-family dwellings.
“In the last 10-15 years, we have more affordable housing,” she said. “It’s part of the Central Avenue historic legacy. You have small businesses along the corridors. Mostly renters. It’s a young community with a young population. There is a high percentage of individuals who have not graduated from high school. The poverty level, the median income, is $27-$28,000.”
In her 38 years at All Peoples, Bryant said she has seen changes in the community.
“Yes, there are cycles that I’ve observed,” she said. “If we talk about violence, it’s cyclical. There have been ebbs and flows in this densely populated area. Sometimes we see an uptick.
COVID has had an impact on people not being out like they were before. In terms of families and the level of poverty — the change has been with the increase of individuals who are undocumented. While they are unable to work — they are finding their own way in terms of working. We have families that live in cars or are couch surfing.”
All Peoples, originally a Japanese institute and church, will celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2022. When it started in 1942, the budget was $4,700. Today, Bryant said it’s $3.1 million.
Bryant is hopeful for a year-long celebration that will start in January.
“We will plant a peace pole and invite individuals from the Japanese-American community,” she said. “It will be in April or May. In October, there will be a gala celebration.”
She is proud of what the organization does on a daily basis and the fact that it never closed during the pandemic.
“When I see our staff that I’ve hired that have come through the program — and to know we were part of their life when they needed it — it makes me so proud,” she said. “I’m so proud when our participants share with me how All People has made a difference in their life.
“I’m grateful for that feeling that I’ve helped someone to make a difference in their lives and helped them achieve a goal. We were here when someone needed us. I believe in my heart that’s what we’re supposed to do. Community means you are there for your neighbor.”
Bryant believes she is exactly where she is supposed to be.
“It has never been a job, it’s been a calling,” she said. “I’m a woman of faith. It’s my purpose in life to pay it forward and give back.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.