Yasmine Delawari Johnson, Josh Klinefelter and Scott Morris are making our world a better place
A trio making the Valley—and the world—a better place
- Written byRachel Heller Zaimont
- Photographed byMichael Becker
Yasmine Delawari Johnson
Rallying volunteers for teen mothers in foster care
The young woman was so shy that Yasmine Delawari Johnson could hardly coax her to speak. Allison (not her real name), 19, had come to a nutrition workshop organized by Alliance of Moms for teen mothers in foster care, such as herself. Yasmine, along with her Alliance co-founder, Jules Leyser, finally got Allison talking when they brought up one topic—her daughter. The young mom and Yasmine bonded that night over stories they shared about their little girls: the dancing, laughter, and getting hugs and kisses in the morning.
When Yasmine saw Allison the next time, the young mother eagerly introduced her daughter to her. And when they met at another Alliance of Moms nutrition event, Allison—the once painfully reserved woman—asked if she could lead the group in a blessing of thanks before sharing a meal.
“She was like a different person,” Yasmine recalls. “It was touching to see her joy at being with women who remembered her and remembered her daughter’s name. I have those interactions all the time—I realized she didn’t. It gave her a sense of pride and self-esteem.”
Connections like this are among the rewards Yasmine never predicted when she and Jules founded the nonprofit in 2014. The idea started with a personal revelation Yasmine had while she was pregnant with her son, Maverick, and decorating his nursery at the family’s home. “As I was looking around at the life he would be born into, I was aware that my son’s life was starting off very differently than other babies in LA,” she says.
“There’s a lot of good fortune he got just because of the circumstances he was born into.”
Yasmine began volunteering with the Alliance for Children’s Rights, a nonprofit that advocates for kids in foster care. (She’s now on the board.) As she fielded calls, she heard “sobering” stories of teen mothers—young women who had been abused or abandoned—struggling to raise their children with no parental role models of their own. More than 25% of girls in foster care become pregnant by age 17, and their children often enter the foster system themselves.
Yasmine, Jules and three other friends established Alliance of Moms as an auxiliary of the Alliance for Children’s Rights, aiming to break this intergenerational cycle.
Raising Baby, the group’s annual flagship event, features expert-led workshops in early childhood development. Teen parents learn the benefits of reading, singing and playing with their children. Another event, Raising Foodies, brings in top local chefs for lessons in child nutrition and healthy cooking classes. And Alliance of Moms just launched a mentoring program that will pair young mothers with teams of LA volunteer moms ready to lend an ear.
“So much of their lives is about social workers and lawyers,” says Yasmine, who has four children with Matthew Johnson, an entertainment attorney and the vice president of the LA Police Commission. “We want them to know we’re there for them as moms and women. We’re trying to figure out motherhood, too. We care about them and we have their backs.”
Investing in underprivileged students
Josh Klinefelter was heartbroken when he got the news: Javier, the high school student he was mentoring as a volunteer with the nonprofit Fulfillment Fund, was passed over for a crucial scholarship to Santa Clara University. Without the scholarship, Javier, who was undocumented and had no access to federal aid, couldn’t afford to attend his first-choice college.
“I’ll never forget sitting in his living room with his parents and case manager,” Josh recalls. “It was brutal, after everything we’d gone through.”
But Josh, who had worked with Javier since the LAUSD student was in eighth grade, didn’t want his mentee to give up on his dreams. So he did something remarkable: He rallied his coworkers at Aurora Capital Partners to pitch in to send Javier to school.
“It’s awesome to see someone who’s talented, who worked really hard and almost didn’t have a chance, be able to do what he wanted to do,” says Josh, a managing partner with the private equity investment firm. “With the right help and the right advocacy, he could make it.”
Since 1999, Josh has committed significant sums of time, energy and money to the Fulfillment Fund, which helps underprivileged students graduate from high school and get into college. The nonprofit was founded by Encino residents Gary and Cherna Gitnick. Josh mentored two students as they worked their way through LAUSD schools. He also founded the Fulfillment Fund’s Leadership Council, bringing young professionals onto the organization’s team of volunteers, donors and mentors.
Now, as president of the board, he couldn’t be prouder of the nonprofit’s impact—95% of the 2,653 students enrolled in Fulfillment Fund programs last year graduated high school, and 97% have plans to go on to college.
“We are taking the kids who would be lost in the shuffle and creating opportunities for them,” he says.
Education is a personally meaningful cause for Josh, who grew up in a single-parent household in New Mexico. Through a series of “lucky breaks,” he got into a prestigious prep school and thrived under the guidance of a handful of teachers. They helped him get a scholarship that clinched his college chances. “Without those people helping me, my life would be really different,” he explains.
Josh has paid it forward in several ways. He and five high school friends established a scholarship fund to send students to the school where he blossomed, Santa Fe Preparatory School. And with help from his colleagues at Aurora Capital, he amassed enough money to put Javier through college at Cal Poly. Javier graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering.
“Being involved in the lives of these students is without question the most rewarding thing I’ve done,” Josh says. “It’s like the American dream is still alive.”
Giving back with everything he has
Scott Morris didn’t want to believe his son, Ryan, could be sick. There were reasonable explanations for all of the Laurel Hall eighth grader’s symptoms. Fatigue? Understandable considering the accomplished athlete had hours of baseball and football practice after school every day. Constant thirst? It was unseasonably hot, even for LA. Of course he was drinking more to stay hydrated.
Everything changed on October 21, 2011—a date Scott can easily recall—when Scott’s wife, Kelly, insisted they take Ryan to the doctor. Ryan’s pediatrician sent the family to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where Scott sat stricken as Ryan changed into his hospital gown. The once-healthy 13-year-old had lost so much weight, “he looked like a skeleton,” Scott remembers.
The diagnosis—type 1 diabetes—turned the family’s world upside down. Suddenly life at their Studio City home revolved around learning to manage this chronic autoimmune disease. For the year that followed, alarms went off every night at midnight and 3 a.m. to test Ryan’s blood sugar, lest he slip into a diabetic coma in his sleep.
Scott made a promise that sustained him through the uncertainty: He would do anything in his power to help Ryan get better.
Six years later, Scott is on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Los Angeles board of directors. He is also an LA team coach and recruiter for the organization’s Ride to Cure Diabetes cycling fundraisers.
Scott, who had never biked long distances before, has now taken part in five grueling cycling events, including a 106-mile ride in Loveland, Colorado this past August.
He has also incorporated philanthropy into his business, SRM Real Estate Group, based in Sherman Oaks. A portion of the profits from every home sale and purchase is donated to JDRF, and Scott also offers clients a monetary incentive to donate to a charitable cause meaningful to them. He hopes to inspire others to get in the habit of giving.
Scott, who has raised more than $100,000 for JDRF, tries to model strong values for his son and daughter, Katie: discipline, focus and working toward a goal. “I want to tell Ryan, whatever his dreams are, don’t let this disease get in his way,” he says.
How does Ryan feel about his father’s efforts? The college sophomore, still a fearsome presence on the pitcher’s mound, often texts Scott the night before an out-of-town ride to wish him luck. These moments strengthen Scott’s resolve and reaffirm the path of social change he has chosen.
“It’s about living a life that matters,” he says. “Even when a cure for diabetes is found, I’m going to adopt another cause and work for that. I’m not going to stop.”
Spring is prime season for farm-fresh, healthy greens. Why not venture beyond “spring mix” and “spicy arugula” at the lettuce stand this year?