Community Voices
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Willenberg student workers and staff are all smiles at the grand opening of the Giving Room. (photo courtesy Willenberg Career and Transition Center)

Willenberg Career and Transition Center, located off Weymouth and Western, is a nurturing, upbeat campus where students are put first. Recently, they have opened a Giving Room for the students and their immediate families where essential items like new shoes, clothing, socks, and other products are provided at no cost.

Willenberg, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, serves young adults with disabilities, ages 18-22. Students are provided real-world job experiences and daily living skills like cooking and laundry. The school differs from the ones the students experienced in their youth, where special education was upstairs or in a bungalow, almost as a second thought. 

Many of the students attending Willenberg deal with multiple obstacles, including poverty. Their families struggle financially, in addition to the challenges of caring for a young adult with a disability. Some students live in group homes for various reasons, including caregiver abuse, which results in them being removed from their family home by adult protective services. For others, the family can no longer take care of their child. At Willenberg, 9 out of 10 students have experienced abuse by a caregiver in their lifetime. Fortunately, life at Willenberg is a safe space for youth of all abilities to thrive. 

The Giving Room is set up like a store with clothes organized by size and style; everything is brand new. There is a seating area with a private dressing room. A new outfit can provide students with dignity and self-esteem. Students and their families can take their time and have a quiet shopping experience without worrying about the cost since everything is free.

“Oftentimes, fashion for the students is selected by the family. A visit to the Giving Room is an opportunity for choice by the student,” says Gavin Mirigliani, principal of Willenberg. “When the students go to the Giving Room, their faces light up. These opportunities make a difference.” 

The Giving Room is also a work training program that teaches retail experience. Students assist with the donation pickup, open the cases, inventory all the items, and provide guidance to shoppers. All products are inventoried with a square, and nothing is sold — prices are always zero. The school is able to track everything, like a store, which is helpful when requesting donations. Some popular items are men’s polo-style shirts and children’s clothing for siblings.

Willenberg is a strong community of caring staff and inspiring students. Helpful employees answer the phones, which does not happen in all schools. There are uplifting announcements on the PA, and everyone is invested in the school. There is no trash or tagging — the Willenberg community takes pride in its campus, and it shows. While the school has maintenance staff, students are encouraged to sweep and pick up after themselves. Everyone matters, and the school is constantly expanding its programs. 

Walking through the school, there is opportunity everywhere: a student-run café, graphic arts training, student-run catering, a shrimp farm, a large garden, car detailing training, sports, and dances. Willenberg students bring their plants and graphic art creations to farmers markets and other events around the community and have mastered the pop-up.

With the new Giving Room, providing students with new shoes, socks, and clothing is one less thing the family has to purchase and a way for students to experience independence. A few of the students needed suits and gowns for their prom and were able to find them there. 

Shelter Partnership, a nonprofit agency, provides donations. The community can also contribute to the Giving Room by donating new hoodies, new larger-sized athletic shoes and clothing, and gift cards for groceries. Contact the school for more information at (310) 548-1371 or follow them on Instagram at @willenberg_ctc. spt

photo of san pedro today author Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez

Jennifer Marquez can be reached at  and @jenntmqz on Twitter and Instagram.