As yet another year draws to a close, we take a look back on the opportunities God has given us to serve him through our mission of providing a better life for disadvantaged children. 2016 was a banner year, ripe with transformation, new relationships, and growth beyond any scope we could have foreseen. Given this season of joy, thanksgiving and remembrance, we are honored to share the ways that the Louis Zamperini Foundation has been afforded to enact our mission.
As with anything fruitful, we started small, with the seed of what has made our mission so exciting for the last 60 years—outdoor adventure. This winter, we hosted a hike to Eaton Canyon Falls in Altadena, CA for a group of boys from Resolute Academy Charter School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. LZF counselor Benjamin Adelmann led the boys, alongside retired LAPD Officer Keith Linton, whose organization Boys to Gentlemen continues to bring family values and educational goals to at-risk boys in some of the toughest communities in the Los Angeles area. For many of the boys, this was their first opportunity to experience the great outdoors.
This June, we proudly partnered, once again, with Louis Zamperini’s dear friend Tai Collins and her organization, A Chance For Children, who sent over 60 third, fourth, and fifth graders from Watts to summer camp at Forest Home Christian Camps—where Louis’ himself had been a guest speaker countless times over many years. The Louis Zamperini Foundation provided Bibles for each student, and sent three groups total on week-long journeys of outdoor adventures and spiritual growth. Together with LAPD Southeast Division’s Sgt. Jesse Ruiz, we are continuing to work with Forest Home to find new and exciting ways to serve youth together, bringing them a sense of purpose and belonging.
During one of our trips to Forest Home, we were honored to be introduced to Pastor Jose Hernandez, a former gang member who, after hearing the call of the Holy Spirit ten years ago, left that lifestyle behind and attended Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa School of Ministry. After graduating, Jose started Hope Central Watts Community Church in a park. He has been faithfully serving the Watts area since 2011. We were so inspired by his outreach that we knew we had to involve ourselves in his incredible ministry for at-risk youth.
Motivated by Jose’s work, we began the Holiday Season with the true spirit of charity, sponsoring a sit-down Thanksgiving feast for hundreds in the Watts community, provided by Hope Central. Just days after the phenomenally successful feast, we partnered with Hope Central once again for their annual Coat Drive, which provides warm coats for children and families in Watts who cannot afford to buy their own. All donations received through our Facebook Page between December 9 and December 23 will go directly to the drive.
2016 was filled with opportunities to spread awareness of our mission, and bring attention to our foundation from a wider audience. In July, the Jolie-Pitt Foundation sponsored a full-page ad for the Louis Zamperini Foundation in People Magazine. We are so grateful for their generosity, and the opportunity for national exposure on a scale we could not have achieved on our own.
Print wasn’t the only medium that picked up on what the Louis Zamperini Foundation was doing—film, television, and music all played a part in telling our story! The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association continued it’s campaign of sending copies of their documentary After “Unbroken” - Louis Zamperini: Captured By Grace to those who donated to their foundation. They also donated 1000 copies of Captured By Grace to our Foundation to be given to the young people we are working with.
In March, Luke Zamperini, son of the late Louis Zamperini, and chairman of our foundation was published by The Washington Times. His feature Power of Prayer: Remembering a Desperate Promise Made in War, Kept in Peace detailed how during his father’s remarkable experience adrift at sea for 47 days, he made a promise to serve God, the fulfillment of which ultimately saved his life from anger, self-destruction, and alcohol abuse. Following Luke’s feature, The Reelz Channel worked with him and his son Clay, interviewing them in preparation of—and featuring them in—their documentary about Louis, The Real Story Of….Unbroken which premiered in September.
From “Don’t Stop Believin’” to “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In,” this year saw us reach new milestones with our continuing campaign to raise funds for our foundation. In August, we created our first Charitybuzz auction, where fans were able to bid on two tickets to the sold-out San Francisco Fest on September 4, where they would meet members of the band Journey, who headlined the festival alongside Santana, Steve Miller and the Doobie Brothers. The experience was graciously donated by Journey, and the proceeds from the auction went on to benefit The Louis Zamperini Foundation.
Following the success of our Journey auction, we joined forces with the legendary John Travolta for another auction benefitting The Louis Zamperini Foundation. Mr. Travolta donated the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the winning bidder and a guest to sit down to lunch with him in Los Angeles or Central Florida. We are so grateful for his generosity and his continued faith in our mission and the immense power of Louis Zamperini’s story.
We’ve continually been given opportunities for both Luke and Clay to speak to the graduating classes of Sunburst Youth Academy, a part of the National Guard Youth Challenge Program that works to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16 to 18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens. The students’ response to Louis’ incredible story of survival and his tenacious willpower is always phenomenal. They see Louis as a real-life “ordinary superhero” who, despite his humble beginnings, was able to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and find forgiveness in his heart for those who had wronged him. We are now able to provide these students with copies of Louis’ documentary, as well!
Our own Louis Zamperini Foundation family has recently expanded, as we invited two new members to join our board of directors this summer. Joining The Zamperini Family in leadership of our foundation is Drake Morton, CEO and founder of Drake Morton & Associates, a highly respected marketing and advertising agency whose past and present clients include American Honda, Ducati Motors, Opus One Winery, and many others. Following Drake’s admission to the board, we were joined by our newest member, Scott Anderholt, VP of Hudson Financial Services, and former Sr. VP of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. We are thrilled to have these two brilliant minds, leaders in their industries, join us as we forge a path ahead for our mission in years to come.
The first of those many years to come is is just days away, with 2017 already looking bright and beautiful for The Louis Zamperini Foundation. We will begin with the great honor that the State of California and the City of Torrance have bestowed upon our namesake, when they will officially name a portion of the 405 freeway, between Redondo Beach Blvd and Western Ave, as “The Louis Zamperini Memorial Highway.” Keep your eyes and ears open for this, and other news about our Centennial Celebration, celebrating Louis’ Zamperini’s 100th birthday in January 2017.
Thank you to all of you who have made this year a success for The Louis Zamperini Foundation, a success for love and hope, and a success for Christ. Please continue to keep our mission in your thoughts, prayers, and charitable giving. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year! We are looking forward to all we can do together in 2017!