How South Central LAMP has been providing light to Mayfielders for three decades 

It was 11:00 am on a weekday, a few days before Thanksgiving, and three Mayfield students—Jackie Sanchez ’24, Fran Villarruel ’24 and Neci Dunn ’25–were hard at work off-campus. They would return to school in the early afternoon for classes but they all had the same free period, so they joined Mayfield’s Service Coordinator and loaded a van full of food and delivered it to South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project–South Central LAMP for short. Off the Vernon exit from the 110 freeway, South Central LAMP sits on the grounds of a former Baptist school. It is a gated one-story building situated between houses, two parking lots, and the ruins of a burnt church. Upon arrival, the Mayfield students coordinated with South Central LAMP staff and volunteers, as they expertly sorted food donations into categories, to create an efficient assembly line for the “Thanksgiving box,” which would be given to families before the holiday. In past years, South Central LAMP often provided these boxes to roughly 45 families. But by day’s end—and between donations from Mayfield, Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School, Notre Dame Academy and USC—there were boxes to feed 100 families.

Jackie explained why she decided to volunteer for this specific project. “We had a speaker, the Executive Director of LAMP, come to speak at Mayfield last year,” she explained. “I looked into it, and when I heard that I might actually be able to come here…I wanted to try volunteering.” It was Jackie’s first visit but said she intended to return.

Although many people inside the Mayfield community are familiar with “South Central LAMP,” in relation to a donation drive of some sort or another, very few are aware of its origins and the special relationship Mayfield has with the institution. 

After the civil unrest in South Central LA in 1992, Catholic sisters from eight distinct congregations formed a unique partnership, including representatives from the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ). Seeing the physical devastation and emotional wounds in the community, these women bonded for a common cause, hoping to serve in the most direct ways possible. They started canvassing the neighborhoods, they held community meetings and they asked a lot of questions. Being bilingual for canvassers was a must because they were explicit that this would not be a top-down approach. They would not swoop into communities in an attempt to solve problems they didn’t understand. The result of their canvassing was this: mothers with language barriers wanted to improve their English literacy, they wanted parent education resources, and they wanted to learn skills to prepare their children for school and later success in life. And with that, the light of this LAMP was sparked, and the Family Literacy Program was born.

Since its founding in 1993, a lot has changed with South Central LAMP. In the early days, nuns from the founding eight congregations were all of the teachers, in addition to the board of trustees as well. Sr. Susan Slater SHCJ—who was in leadership at the Society at the time—laughs reflecting on that specific element, saying everyone “wanted to do more” and they “realized you can’t have all nuns on the board to do that!” 

Mayfield Senior School has a lot of ties to South Central LAMP.  And through careful cultivation from the Campus Ministry team, the connections between the two organizations have only grown. South Central LAMP has brought speakers to Mayfield. Mayfield has hosted book drives, clothing drives, food drives, period product drives and toy drives to benefit South Central LAMP. The Alum Council directs alums to donate there too. Students volunteer there. Past Mayfield parents have taught there. Members of Mayfield families have sat on the South Central LAMP board. And Mayfield’s past Director of Alum Relations—Nicole Cosand Burcham—is currently South Central LAMP’s Development Director. The warmth and joy of a Holy Child institution is always present at South Central LAMP as well. While mothers are in their classrooms, taking advantage of literacy or parent education resources, often their pre-school age children are in a classroom just across the playground, so their mothers don’t have to worry about the burden of childcare. If you come on a weekday, the sounds of children’s laughter echoes across the blacktop. 30 years since its founding, South Central LAMP is as essential to this community as ever.

Diana Z. Pinto, South Central LAMP’s Executive Director, is amazed how far this organization has come. Pinto started at South Central LAMP 13 years ago, as the Family Advocate, then Program Director, and eventually took on the Executive Director position. Initially she hesitated to assume the senior leadership role, knowing she would miss the one-on-one relationships she had in other roles, but says, “I didn’t want someone to come in and really not get our mission. I know how special we are…there is a huge difference in the way we serve people…we are small. People feel comfortable coming here.”

Neci, one of the Mayfield students who came for the Thanksgiving drive, said she first  “heard about LAMP in her Theology class.” Neci had volunteered at food drives at her grandparents’ parishes, but after exploring the South Central LAMP’s website, she knew she wanted to contribute there too. ”It was really interesting how they were providing support to parents and their children. Not just one or the other.”

Service-learning is integral to a Mayfield education, and Mayfield students who visit South Central LAMP know that service is not about the simple act of giving or receiving, fulfilling a physical need, or filling a material gap. Service is a place of an encounter. In these moments, the invisible ties of human kinship can be made somewhat visible, if ever so briefly. And everyone involved is strengthened by that recognition. It is at the very center of Cornelia Connelly’s incarnational theology—we get to see glimpses of the Divine in each other.

The Thanksgiving food boxes were not initially outlined in South Central LAMP’s foundational services when it started, but once it launched several years ago, it became abundantly clear this drive was helpful to families who were currently enrolled in South Central LAMP’s programming. And as more contributions came in over the years, South Central LAMP welcomed the wider community to receive this holiday service as well. And many mothers who were graduates from South Central LAMP’s programs often serve as volunteers to distribute the food, eager to give back. Only a few weeks later, South Central LAMP’s annual Toy Drive would take place, and three Mayfield vans would pull up to the center again, this time full of new, unwrapped items to be delivered to children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers.

All of the eight founding congregations that helped launch South Central LAMP continue to contribute in different ways, and more organizations and congregations have become part of the South Central LAMP family as well. Sr. Slater SHCJ remarked that expansions and collaborations like these were incredibly fruitful to the Society, calling it “a different understanding of ministry” because it didn’t follow “the traditional educational model.” But one of the most transformative benefits of connecting local Holy Child schools to local ministries provided the potential for them to become “helpful to each other.” 

As the 30th anniversary of South Central LAMP approaches this spring, it seems an opportunity to celebrate the relationship that has grown between Mayfield and South Central LAMP, and our Holy Child connections, which only makes this dynamic stronger. And as South Central LAMP has been providing services to its neighboring community, they have also grown the scope of that community as well, and Mayfield is only too lucky to be part of that growth. Helpful to each other, indeed.
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.