DOWNTOWN — Ana Jara has dedicated the better part of her adult life to mentoring Santa Monica youth; now, she’s asking her community to help her realize her dreams.
Jara, 31, was recently accepted to George Washington University and plans to pursue a master’s degree in public policy. As a woman dedicated to shaping the lives of underprivileged, disenfranchised kids, she hopes to use her institutional knowledge to affect change in City Hall, empowering youth and giving them direction.
Yet, GWU is historically one of the most expensive universities in the country, and as someone who dedicates a great portion of her life to nonprofit work, Jara racked her brains about raising funds.
With the support of fellow community activists, Jara’s family and friends are putting together a fundraiser at Marisol restaurant this Saturday from 7 p.m. — 11 p.m. Guests will be charged $25 for meals that include appetizers and desserts, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go toward Jara’s education. They’re hoping to raise $10,000.
“I realized it takes a village,” Jara said, referring the support she needs to pursue her education.
Yet, subconsciously, Jara was pulling inspiration from the guiding principle of her life: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Humanitarian aspirations were drilled into Jara from a young age.
“I’m the eldest of four in a huge, rambunctious Latino family,” she said, adding that working with kids was something she naturally fell into.
As a child, she was often coordinating her siblings, organizing activities and putting on dances during family gatherings.
Though Jara believes caretaking is in her roots, her goals to work with at-risk youth did not take shape until she and her siblings began visiting the local Boys and Girls Club after school.
After going through leadership training programs and being named the first “Female Youth of the Year,” the club offered Jara a job when she was only 16.
Throughout high school, Jara continued her humanitarian efforts when she founded a youth ministry group and volunteered at the Pico Youth & Family Center. She also serves on a number of government committees, including the Pico Neighborhood Association and the board of the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights Steering Committee.
Yolanda de Cordova, Jara’s fellow volunteer at the Pico Youth & Family Center, was quick to note Jara’s giving spirit.
“The passion she has for all youth is unconditional, I know that,” de Cordova said. “She’s not in this for the money, she does this because she cares.”
Jara keeps in touch with many of the kids she’s worked with in the past, recognizing that long-term investment is what truly makes a difference in their lives. She remembers, when she was a kid, she could “smell the difference” between volunteers who were in it for the short-term and those who truly cared about her and her future.
“I grew up in the Pico Neighborhood and I remember thinking, ‘The city doesn’t care about me, the police doesn’t care about me,’” Jara said. “Part of our jobs as adults is to break through this stereotype and show people in the community we care.”
Lindsey Haley, friend of the Jara family, said she sees traces of her mother, Ana Jara Sr., in Jara.
“Ana Sr. has been on several boards and commissions for the city so Ana comes from an activist background,” Haley said.
Jara cites her mother as a constant inspiration.
“My mom was a great role model; she always works collaboratively with people and is willing to help. That’s something I grew up with,” she said.
Jara is certain to miss her mom come August when classes start, as she has never been away from home for more than six weeks.
Saturday morning chilaquiles and dinners at the Bolivar Cafe & Gallery are just a few touches from home Jara will do without in the nation’s capital.
“I know it’s going to be a huge loss for me personally, I grew up with this community and a nest of people around me, but I also trust I have the ability to go and try new things,” Jara said.
She plans to return to Santa Monica after earning her degree.