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Story by Stu Jackson, Senior Staff Writer

LYNWOOD, Calif. – In 1992, Arnold Schwarzenegger founded the Inner City Games (ICG) Foundation to bring sports to at-risk youth across the country. The Los Angeles-based organization in 2003 changed its name to After-School All-Stars – the same year it evolved its model to comprehensive after-school programs.

The organization's growth and expansion over that 11-year period included a chapter in L.A. in 2002. More than 20 years later, the L.A. chapter carries out that mission through a four-pillar strategy of academics & homework support; visual and performing arts; youth leadership and community service learning; and health, fitness and nutrition programs across 75 schools grades K-12 (and counting).

Senior Vice President of Leadership and Community Outreach Donny Faaliliu has been with After-School All-Stars Los Angeles since 2004, and his role in helping lead and deliver that after-school programming to disadvantaged youth is why he was recently recognized as the Rams' third "pLAymaker" honoree of 2024.

"It's amazing," Falaliliu said after being surprised at a Play-60 event at Soleil Academy. "I think being honored to be a playmaker, I mean, this is what my life has really been about, of service and giving back to the community. Couldn't have done it without the wonderful partnership with the L.A. Rams and the great work that the Rams are about. It's about really coming back and giving back to the community in these kinds of ways, whether it's the Play-60 Field Day activities, or whether it's the Rams Readers program, inviting families and our administrators, teachers and our staff to come out to a game. I think it's really important to a lot of our kids here in the community in Los Angeles, it's their first time going to a professional football game, being inside SoFi stadium.

"And so just to be able to create these wonderful opportunities and experiences for them to be able to experience, we talk a lot about the student academic achievement gap, but I really am about closing the opportunity gap, and partnering up with the L.A. Rams has definitely been a perfect opportunity to do exactly that."

According to ASAS-LA's website, their four-pillar strategy is supported by eight programs to complement the regular school day. That programming includes:

  • High school dropout prevention
  • College and workforce readiness
  • Life-Service-Action, where students apply what they learn in the classroom to lead their own research-driven projects
  • Financial literacy, career development and entrepreneurialism
  • Structured physical and nutrition activities that connect sports to lessons on healthy living, teamwork, resilience and gender equality
  • Literacy
  • S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics; Robotics, Coding, and Engineering)
  • Social-emotional learning

Faaliliu said they've grown from being in four middle schools to 75 grade K-12 schools, and serve more than 20,000 students annually.

"So we're very proud about that," Faaliliu said. "We're slowly growing and expanding, we're picking up some new schools next year, so excited to be able to just continue to bring these real-life experiences to our students every year."

Asked what inspire change means to him, Faaliliu thought back to the previous day when he was asked about motivation. Motivation, he said, gets you up and going, while inspiration is what gets you past the proverbial finish line. That's where planting seeds of opportunity for the kids they serve comes in.

He said the comprehensiveness of ASAS-LA's program – from academic support, visual performing arts, nutrition and servicing learning to youth leadership – is about "expanding their horizons" in terms of their dreams and what they want to be. This summer, the organization will be taking its youth leadership students – Youth Advisory Board members – to Orlando, Florida for week-long youth leadership programming alongside Youth Advisory Board members from other After-School All-Stars chapters. They will also help them plan and coordinate a service-learning project, and with selecting and identifying a community issue that's important to them that they want to make a difference in.

"So when you look at inspirational change, that's what it's about," Faaliliu said. "It's about paying it forward, it's about helping students see the change that they want to see in themselves and within their communities to be able to make that big difference."

And when it comes to inspiring change in one's own community, Faaliliu offers an incremental but consistent approach for others to follow.

"It's inspiring change one student at a time, one person at a time," Faaliliu said. "I think being able to control what you can control, that's within your family, your neighbor, within the community. You have the mindset of coming in and taking over the world, yes we can definitely do that, but change happens one person at a time."

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