School Heroes Emergency Fund

Giving Teachers the Apple They Deserve

Sharon McCreight, 52, has dedicated her life to education. She currently works for the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, spending at least four days a week as a literacy coach for teachers at 107th Street Elementary in Watts.

“I’m an educator,” Sharon says. “Seeing the kids get ‘lightbulbs’ and understand that they are capable and can grow. Especially at a school in Watts, I want them to see beyond their current circumstance and know they can achieve anything. Just because it’s tough, doesn’t mean it’s not achievable.”

Sharon brings to the job more than 30 years of experience in education, as well as a master’s degree in reading, a passion for literacy, and—this being LA—her car. But when she tried to leave school one afternoon this past fall, her car wouldn’t move. She got out of the car and discovered that her rear tires were completely flat. She’d recently bought four new tires for the car, but the drive through the alleyways to the school parking lot must have punctured the rear two.

Sharon had the car towed to the dealership and shelled out hundreds of dollars for two new tires. This was not money she had to spare. During the pandemic Sharon had been laid off from her job at an education technology company and then from a second job with an education consulting firm. She just started with Partnership for LA Schools in July, 2023 and began to rebuild a financial cushion. “If you go into education, you know the pay is not going to be the greatest,” she says. “If you’re an educator at heart, you’ll find a way to serve the students. But this was an emergency.” 

Then she learned about the School Heroes Emergency Fund (SHEF). A program of The Change Reaction, SHEF provides emergency gifts of up to $2,500 per year to full time teachers, administrators, and staff at schools across LA County. School personnel like Sharon can apply for a grant anonymously through a technology platform called Canary. A grant manager responds within 48 hours, and if the gift is approved, the funds are distributed immediately.  

Sharon immediately applied, received a grant through SHEF, and was able to use the money to pay for her tires, allowing her to get back on the road and to her job. “It absolutely helped me drive to my site. It took the pressure off of being an adult human,” she says.

A Calling with a Cost  

LA county’s teachers and staff play a critical role in the life of the city. They serve the 1.5 million children in 80 public school districts across the county and those attending private schools. For most people who work in education, supporting students is a calling. It’s also a selfless, demanding job—and one that is woefully underpaid. 

First- and second-year teachers employed by LAUSD earn between $62,000 - $65,000 a year. School support staff make far less. The cost of living in LA County has grown so high that the California Department of Housing and Community Development now considers a person earning $70,650 a year “low income.” A family of four living on $100,000 a year or less is low-income. Many school staff are simply not earning enough to cover expenses, let alone save for emergencies, meet unexpected costs, or take career-enhancing courses. 

In addition to the low pay, school staff face other challenges. Take driving to work. LA has notoriously deteriorated roads—the third worst in the nation. This damages cars for all those working in the city. For school staff, new tires and other car repairs can be tremendously burdensome. Those working in under-resourced schools in poor areas like Watts and South LA have additional stressors. Some find themselves dipping into their own bank accounts to buy necessary school supplies for students who lack the materials they need, as well as food and even clothing. They also must contend with the very real social and economic pressures on students, including, in some areas, exposure to gun violence and over-policing, and the distraction and trauma this causes.

The Change Reaction launched SHEF in 2023 to help lessen the burden these heroes face. Helping teachers and school staff is part of The Change Reaction’s mission to support the hardworking people who make Los Angeles run. “SHEF lets them know there’s a way to get support for their expenses when they are at a dead-end and don’t have the resources. It frees up mental space so they can do what they want to be doing, which is teaching,” says Brooke Perlman, The Change Reaction Communications Manager. 

Helping the Unsung Heroes Among Us

Perlman tells a story about visiting a new partner school, and being shown a cabinet of clothes and toddler supplies for needy kids, and a washer and dryer for parents to use. “The woman who ran it said to us, ‘How can these kids learn anything when all they can think about is the fact that they’re wearing the same dirty underwear again? They have these needs at the forefront of their mind.’ That comment stuck with me in terms of teachers, too, who are constantly taking money they do not have out of their own pockets to support their students, while also having financial burdens that they can’t pay for.” 

Since rolling out SHEF in 2023, The Change Reaction has received more than 1,200 requests for funding from some three-dozen partner schools. It has disbursed about $1.2 million, as of March 31, 2024. Nearly 40% of the funded requests have been for help with car repairs. Another 20% have gone toward mortgage or rent, and 19% to home repairs. 

Ielaf Altoma Stead, Senior Manager of Partner Relations at TCR, has helped enroll some 30 schools in SHEF. As she puts it, “SHEF is there to say, ‘Someone sees you and wants to be there for you. We want you to take care of yourself and be okay so you can show up for these kids.’ That’s the ripple effect we support at The Change Reaction.” 

Supporting the Support Staff

Luis Barazza is the principal at Sunrise Elementary School, another member school of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. As principal, he oversees a staff of about 85 people, including those working in support roles who earn even less than teachers. Since becoming a partner with SHEF one year ago, Barazza has heard how much SHEF has protected these employees and their families. 

“When people think of who is employed at a school, they think of the teachers most often. They are so valuable, but we have employees who are supervision aides, cafeteria workers, secretaries, teachers’ assistants,” says Barazza. “These positions have a lower income than a teacher, coach, or coordinator. So, for them, an unexpected car issue, or something happening with an appliance at home can be catastrophic very quickly. The Heroes fund has allowed them to take care of that need without having to sacrifice meals you prepare for your kids, or transportation for your parents, say, to take them to the hospital.”

Confidentiality Is Key

Barazza admits that some staff members were skeptical about the program at first, assuming it was a scam. “The first thought, when most people hear of something like this, is that there’s a string attached, it’s a scam. They’ve said, ‘Is this real? Is it true? Is it legit?’ My role initially is to assure them that it is legit and set up to help them through some unexpected hardship.” 

Another hesitation came from the embarrassment about needing help. The confidential nature of SHEF, however, has enabled people to overcome this concern. “There is a certain stigma, still, whether it should be or not, when you need to ask for help. That’s a hard thing for someone to do,” says Barazza. “With this, there’s a sense that, ‘I can get through this, and what is happening is private unless I choose it not to be.’ That has been really helpful for our people here.”

Because people apply for and receive grants confidentially, Barazza doesn’t know everyone who has used the fund or how they’ve used it. But he says that those who have shared their experience with it have voiced huge appreciation not only for the program’s privacy, but also for its speed. “They have shared a big sense of relief because the process was so speedy. When something happens, you need immediate help, immediate resolution.” 

As Barazza says, “The name, the Heroes fund, is so appropriate. At a school site, there are so many of these other individuals who are also heroes, just like the teachers are, and without them, the school wouldn’t function.”


Schools currently enrolled in the program include: 107th St Elementary, 20th St Elementary, 49th St Elementary, 99th St Elementary, Carver Middle, Chatsworth High, Crete Academy, de Toledo High, Dolores Huerta Elementary, Figueroa St Elementary, Germain Academy, Grape St Elementary, Heschel Day School, Hillel Hebrew, Hollenbeck Middle, Holy Name of Jesus, Jordan High, Joyner Elementary, LA Leadership Academy, Markham Middle, Mendez High, MSTMA at Roosevelt High, Notre Dame High, Partnership LA Staff, Ritter Elementary, Roosevelt High, Santee High, St. Eugene School, Stevenson Middle, St. John Eudes School, Stoney Point High School, Sunrise Elementary, Transfiguration Elementary, Valley International Preparatory School, Verbum Dei Jesuit High, Weigand Elementary and Yula High.