LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Los Angeles city leaders, including two former mayors, gathered at City Hall today to celebrate the 25th anniversary of LA’s BEST, an after-school program first proposed by Mayor Tom Bradley in a mayoral state of the city address.

“(Bradley) wanted the children of Los Angeles to have safe, supervised places to go after school, where they can gain an enriching experience and find wonderful role models to look up to,” according to Councilman Paul Koretz, who organized the event recognizing the long-running partnership between the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The commemoration came on the day Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will give his final state of the city address, in which he is expected to discuss the mayor’s role in education.

Koretz said the LA’s BEST program grew from providing after-school space for children at 10 schools to organizing a variety of educational and enrichment activities at 189 LAUSD schools, “changing the lives of 350,000 children in the past quarter century.”

The program offers homework help, snacks, arts and crafts and fitness activities, as well as organizing field trips and special projects such as school gardens and drama productions, for elementary school children after school hours.

Wanda Moore of the Tom Bradley Legacy Foundation said that during the program’s early open house events, “the sparkle would come into Tom Bradley’s eyes.”

Bradley, who served 22 as mayor, “was so delighted with the young people, and he was very concerned about their future.”

Koretz said LA’s BEST has been championed by every mayor since Bradley, including Richard Riordan and James Hahn, who both attended the ceremony.

Riordan “embraced this fledgling” after-school program upon succeeding Bradley in 1993, and was responsible for the program’s “rapid growth,” Koretz said.

During a City Council presentation, Riordan introduced Manny Cuevas, a student in the L.A’s BEST program who wrote and recited a poem: “When I’m mad or sad my heart droops like it’s getting heavier and heavier. I can barely breathe. When someone dies, I can see the sadness in the family. I can see they
want to cry an ocean in the room. But the family keeps the tears back. That is why I am glad to have a program that keeps me away from violence.”

Riordan thanked the council for keeping the program in its budget every year, and said he believes “every child has the right to a quality education, whether rich or poor, whatever their color is, they have that right and we have to fight for that.”

Hahn said LA’s BEST “was a good enough idea that I wanted to do everything I could when I was mayor to continue.”

“Not everything that one mayor starts is necessarily continued by the next one,” he said.

Joan Sullivan, Villaraigosa’s deputy mayor of education, said LA’s BEST is one of the most “indisputably impactful organizations in the city,” adding that the “secret” to the program’s continued success was LA’s BEST’s president, Carla Sanger.

“It’s said it takes a village to raise a child. There is no village in the world with villagers as magnificent as Los Angeles,” Sanger said. “I thank you for 25 years. It’s hard to believe … and on behalf of the children and parents, we’re so lucky to be in this extraordinary city.”

Mirla Urzua, an alumnus of the program who went on to earn a degree in government from Harvard University, credited the program for keeping her on the right path.

“There were many, many moments in which things could have gone very wrong and LA’s BEST was there to make sure none of that happened during the time I was in elementary school,” Urzua said.