Gregory and Jodi Perlman launched the All Ways Up Foundation (known then as the Perlman Foundation) in 2009. They began this journey with a mission to help hardworking, low-income individuals improve their lives. The foundation has now grown to include a partnership with community-based non-profit organizations that run programs for low-income, hard-working, motivated people.
The Perlmans saw the generational poverty that many individuals faced and decided to lend support to organizations and individuals working hard to impact change within their community. I am a former foster youth who was fortunate to meet the Perlmans shortly after exiting the foster care system through a referral by a friend of my mentor, Shaun Teka Joyner, the former director of the All Ways Up Foundation, and I was blown away by the couple’s generosity, authenticity and humility.
The Perlmans have made it possible for me to add to the 3 percent of foster youth who graduate from college, as they personally made it their mission to invest time in encouraging, advising and guiding me toward both academic and career success. I now consider them both my godparents. Over dinner, we discussed the heart behind their foundation and how they choose the organizations and individuals they will fund.
The Chronicle of Social Change (CSC): You both are highly successful yet remain humble and continue to help foster youth, single moms and section 8 housing residents. What gave you both the heart to serve these communities?
Gregory Perlman: I think that we were born with the hearts to serve. Our parents taught us to help others and to strive to understand and be aware of those less fortunate. We are able to see firsthand and serve section 8 housing. So as soon as we were in a position to have enough money to serve and make an impact we started our foundation. We both wanted to make an impact on as many people as possible. We started with the residents in our section 8 buildings and along the way we have met and found other organizations that are also striving to touch other people’s lives.
CSC: What organizations have you supported through your foundation?
GP: Our foundation is pretty active right now. We have a homeless shelter who we support in the San Fernando Valley. We support rescue missions and family shelters.
We discovered many people who were working 40 hours a week and still were unable to afford housing. We have began giving subsidies for housing so that many of those working 40 hours a week can afford housing. We are also matching grants for those working 40 hours a week, and we give up to 50 percent of their pay while they get on their feet.
We are also helping other foster youth and investing in Casa Pacifica and CASA LA [Court Appointed Special Advocates of Los Angeles] and giving their youth scholarships. We truly enjoy helping those who are working really hard to have a better life.
CSC: How did your grants program begin giving to non-profit organizations?
GP: We did a really big PR campaign that we wanted to give grants out to smaller organizations. A lot of people applied as a whole, and we were able to have people from all over apply.
The organizations that we outreached to had to be education-based and organizations that were helping people. We began by choosing 8 to 10 organizations. One of the things that we always ask of the organizations is that they bring us kids who we can give scholarships to.
Yet some organizations did not refer us any kids. We have now been able to hone in on organizations that really are making change; not all of the organizations are so small anymore and have grown. We do not give to big organizations, but to the organizations who have budgets that are up to $1 million.
CSC: What types of grants do you award?
GP: The grants we give vary. We do matching grants at times. If the organization can raise $50,000 we will match that. This gives them an incentive to go out and raise money from other donors.
CSC: Who are grants usually awarded to?
GP: What we have found is that the good people do not ask. They feel really weird asking; yet the ones who do come and ask without a recommendation we are leery of. This is one of the main reasons we use the homeless shelter we currently work with to find people. People on staff will let us know about amazing families who may be living in the shelter and need help. When the staff recommends us people, we usually do not need more information because we trust the organizations we work with.
CSC: You both give to an abundance of organizations. Is your foundation still in the process of finding more organizations to award grants to?
GP: We are always looking for new organizations to give to. We want to help more people but we always want someone we know to vouch for them.
If you meet one of our kids, they have already gone through the process to get to our events. We have already vetted them and weeded out the ones that our program may not work for. We not only help the overachievers, we also help those who may not have the best grades due to circumstances yet who work extremely hard.
CSC: Beyond scholarships and grants you have begun giving out low-interest loans. What led you to form such a bridge?
GP: We have found that some people fall into really expensive payday loans. These loans are costing them 230 to 240 percent. Thus, we decided to help people through no-interest or low-interest loans. We are always trying to figure out how to get people ahead, who especially are hard working.
CSC: What programs have you started for college students that have been beneficial?
GP: We have a matching program, where starting sophomore year we will match up to 50 percent of youth’s net pay while they are working in college. We will give them up to $400 a month. We do not want them working full-time while in school, and instead want them working 20 hours a week.
Right now we do this for 220 kids who are on scholarship through our program, and within the next 5 years we hope to get 1,000 youth.
CSC: Mrs. Perlman, you have been working with CASA. You recently hosted an event for CASA that raised thousands of dollars. Can you tell me about your role with CASA?
Jodi Perlman: I’ve always had a soft spot for foster kids. Foster children have always touched my heart, as far along as I can remember.
I really loved helping Casa Pacifica [a service provider in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties]. I met Vicki from Casa Pacifica and my friend and I both decided to work with them. My friend who also works with Casa Pacifica introduced me to CASA Ventura County. I learned that they are Court Appointed Special Advocates that help foster kids.
My friend needed help fundraising, so I joined to help them fundraise and really help people get introduced to what CASA is. We did out first fundraiser to bring awareness of what CASAs do and how important it is for foster children to have a person who is there consistently.
CASA is an amazing organization; it all comes full circle for the children. Even children with foster parents can benefit from a CASA. They are really quasi-parents in a way.
CSC: What is one of your favorite non-profit organizations?
GP: One of our favorite organizations is South-Central Scholars. This organization moves throughout south-central schools and works with the lower-income demographic. They find kids who are hard working and help them achieve their best in school to get into colleges throughout the country.
All of the kids who enter their program graduate. They have helped 18 kids; some of the kids have gone on to MIT and Brown, Harvard, Williams, Northwestern and many more.
CSC: You both do something that I’ve never seen before from a non-profit organization. You give scholarship recipients business cards to network with funders that include their name and contact information. You build bridges so that those who attend your event can also be mentors. How did you come up with this idea?
JP: The kids who we give scholarships to are usually overachievers in the community and family. So they were excited to be able to make the contacts.
It has been important that we tell funders when they come to our events that we are expecting them to take business cards and become mentors and maybe make a positive impact in some of these kids’ stories. This allowed people to give back, whether financially or their time.