Pandemic-Era Heroes: Couple focuses on helping now – and helping to forge the next generation


 Pandemic-Era Heroes

Latest installment in a series about people who made a big difference in the community during a time framed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Giving to others always seems to find a way to give back.

That’s certainly the case for Andrew and Deanna Thomas, who’ve poured 15 years into Young Ambassadors Leadership Academy (YALA), which has mentored more than 500 young men, according to Andrew.

But the giving doesn’t stop there.

From raising the next generation of gentlemen and seasonal giveaway events to collaborations with Penny Lane, an organization that operates residential treatment facilities in the San Fernando Valley focusing to bless the youth in the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services or the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

“We’re doing our part to help the community,” Andrew said.

Additionally, Andrew is helping to lead a PPE giveaway with members of his Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a prestigious organization founded in 1911 on the campus of Howard University. Giving sanitizer, gloves, chapstick, and other essentials needed for the current pandemic, with a cup of coffee and danish.

Deanna, the academy’s career and academic counselor, won the United Chambers of Commerce Inspirational Women of the San Fernando Valley award in 2016, a feather in her cap that represents the great impact a program like YALA has done.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s near two decades of work has given back when students need it most amid virtual learning. More than 500 ‘ambassadors’ have completed the program and many alumni are now helping those in the academy (ages 6-16) through digital tutoring and mentorship via Zoom.

“Parents are appreciative of the help,” Andrew said. “It’s more than teaching the material, but checking in on the student’s well-being through this very hard time.”

YALA has made an impact over the course of 15 years, but the Thomas’ PPE giveaway is a direct impact to the local community today. The kits were prepared and given away to the homeless on Halloween and were set to be distributed again on Christmas morning.

“There are numerous encampments we visit, from Van Nuys to Chatsworth,” Andrew explained. “We do our best to keep ourselves and those in need safe by keeping a distance. The freeway underpasses are a big stop for us too.”

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