Farewell, D.C.



On Starbucks and Hamburgers


Inner Harbor!

Our first day was a looong day but it was fueled with the unbridled enthusiasm that only middle schoolers can have. Our first stop was at Inner Harbor in Baltimore. Students had free time to visit the museums, aquarium, take a ride on the paddle boat, or go to the impressive Barnes and Noble store with a Starbucks inside. Most chose to walk the harbor acknowledging that they could go to Starbucks at any time, but they weren’t going to miss the opportunity to get in the harbor.


Students who know no fear


Chaperone moms, Vilma and Marta

A long drive ensued to Fredericksburg, and by the time we arrived at our dinner locale, the students were starving, Joseph, in particular. But the kids were glad to be able to call their parents and fill them in on their arrival.


Another long drive was next to Williamsburg where students checked in and had phones confiscated for mandatory bedtime. No late night pillow fights with a 6:00 am wake-up call…and night chaperones manning the hallways!


Tomorrow, glassblowing in Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg, and 100 degree weather. Signing off!


Off to the Airport


Students did not sleep last night, and why would they? Our bus boarding time was 3:45 a.m.!  Major disasters were averted with only three students of 42 showing up late. The other 30 are to take a later flight. But where were the three students?

  1. One decided to take a last minute shower
  2. One woke up late
  3. One we woke up with mu

    ltiple calls to her home

All bags were on the bus along with their owners by 4:10 and children said farewell to their parents. For some, it is their very first trip away from home.


We were a formidable group at the check-in counter with our line snaking out the front doors. The ticket agent was impressed that only one bag was being checked. “They took a packing class, they travel light,” I responded.

Making it through security was moderately difficult. Michelle said “everybody is going around you because they know what they’re doing. There’s so much you have to know!”

And this trip will be their first lesson.

Once students made it past security, they breathed a sigh of relief and went in search of breakfast. Starbucks was a favorite, but Mickey-D’s reigned supreme. Time flew by and it was time to board.



After everyone was seated, you could sense their anticipation by their nervous chatter. Gasps were heard when the plane started moving. From 10 rows up I kept hearing the word “scared.” I knew they would scream when the plane took off.

“OH SHIT!” is what I heard loudest as the plane took flight. Facepalm.

We will have a conversation about that in Williamsburg.

It’s Time!

Luggage? Check.

Plane tickets? Check.

Excitement, motivation, dedication, and perseverance? BEEN CHECKED!

Meeting time is at 3:45 a.m. at L.A. Academy Middle School in South Central L.A. Buses will pick us up and take is to airport for our 6:30 a.m. flight.

Stay tuned for pics and vids!

And the Countdown Begins

One year, two months later, the first ever Washington DC trip by my school’s students is scheduled to take place on the 20th of this month.

What a year its been.

We embarked on this endeavor with nothing but hope and determination, never having fundraised before, not having a model to follow. Only by the sheer will of determined students and parents have we made it this far.

70 of the original 100 students are scheduled to travel on June 20th. For most, it will be their first time ever flying on a plane. The last three weeks have included student meetings on topics such as how to pack a suitcase, the rules of getting through security at the airport, what to expect at the hotel, and of course a preview of our jam-packed itinerary.

I have been inspired by the individual stories of my students. Joseph, who works at night with his father and has paid a portion of his trip with his wages. Juan who has sold soccer balls and purses to his relatives. Angie and her mom who walked down Compton Bl. asking for donations from business and defending their reason for doing so.

Kayla, who held fundraising barbecues. The endless amount of moms who slaved making tamales to sell at events and for the teachers. Leslie, who is not going on the trip, but shows up at 6:00 am in front of the school to help other DC students with fundraisers.

The staff at my school has shown their support for the students in ways that bring a knot to my throat, tears to my eyes. These teachers who have dealt with 10 furlough days in two years (and are facing 20 next year) have been the students’ first and best customers from cheesecakes, to taquitos, to mangoneadas, nuts, Carl’s Jr., Hometown Buffet, and Avon.

And the corporations? Absent. Hundreds of letters sent. No luck.

Our biggest donors have been regular individuals who have chipped in $20, $50, or $100 bucks as often as they could. A former teacher put down almost $1000. One organization, Building Healthy Communities, donated $2500 for our cause. This was thanks to the folks at the National Council for La Raza who steered us in their direction.  The West Hollywood Drag Queens also allowed us to put on a function that netted us over $800.  We are humbled and grateful.

Over $11,000 sold in cheesecakes? Who would’ve thought?

We lost students who could not participate in fundraising due to the extreme hardships they face living in an economy that is choking the life out of the poor, the needy, the dis-empowered. When people have no safety nets, no social networks, no flexibility with their job (if they’re lucky to have one) then hosting barbecue fundraiser is truly a luxury. These are the families who I later discovered used the small amount of fundraising money made by the kids to pay their rent. I can’t forget those kids.

Still, for the sake of the remaining students we move forward. And what an experience awaits us. Our travel company Worldstrides, has gone out of its way to make this trip possible, since they don’t often get customers from our part of town. Well now they do!

This trip has changed students, has changed the school. Some students have found their forte; they will grow up to be fierce businessmen and women. Gigi in particular is a killer. She used her broken foot to grow her sales to unbelievable numbers. She once raised $200 during lunch time. I would stare in wonder trying to figure out how she managed to make so many open their wallets and give willingly. Then she would flash her sweet smile and that explained it all.

Students now know what businesses have the best prices, offer the biggest discounts, and how to maximize their profit margins. More importantly, they now have faith in themselves. If they were able to fundraise an $1900 trip, they can do anything.

We are not finished raising funds. We have 18 days to get to the finish line. There are about 12 students whose accounts are still in danger. We are working to finish gathering the $7000 still left to raise in the time left. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Stay tuned for live blogging from our South Central departure in the wee hours of June 20th to our return on the 24th. And thank you for all your support!


Trying to Keep the Dream Alive in South Central

Students counting profits

Students counting profits

Many of you have kept up with our endeavor to send 100 students to Washington DC next month. It has been an incredibly fulfilling yet challenging process.  This is our update.

As of last week, our students were supposed to be 50% paid up for their accounts to remain open, of the $1900 cost of the trip. Few students were at this threshold, for various reasons:

  • lower than expected fundraiser numbers
  • lack of an audience to which to sell items to
  • general inexperience in the ins and outs of fundraising

The company required a credit card in order to extend our payments.  We scrambled last week to get the students paid up to 50% with me putting down my credit card (and accepting cash) from those families who were unable to buy a pre-paid credit card for the transaction. I met with almost all of the 80 students who still remain on our trip roster and let’s just say emotions were on overdrive this week by all involved.

The fundraising amounts did not meet the goals we set due to uneven fundraising among students, most with valid reasons that include living in a community where buying a $15 cheesecake is a luxury or buying a $10 Hometown Buffet gift card will only occur when the cards are at hand (not by ordering and waiting three weeks for their arrival.)

Donations have been strong thanks to folks like you, and so it was with a somber spirit that I disbursed our collected amounts to students in proportion to their participation.  Some students got their balance paid for, but the vast majority owe between $300 and $800 each.

I am asking that if you have not yet made a donation to our historic trip to Washington, you consider making one now.  Even if it is only $20, it will help tremendously. Larger amounts, of course, would be divine!

You can do make a donation two ways.

  1. Tax-deductible: Write a check made payable to L.A. Academy Middle School and mail to 644 E. 56th St. Los Angeles, CA, 90011 c/o Washington DC Trip
  2. Make an electronic payment with your credit card (cannot take a tax deduction this way) at


Customer Account Number:  101968883

Participant’s Last Name:  Infante

The funds will be distributed proportionally to all participants unless you specify a specific student.

Please forward to anyone who might consider supporting our trip, and keeping the students’ dreams alive.

P.S. Just to clarify, the students are still working their butts off to fund raise the remaining amount…

-Martha Infante, Program Leader

The Elusive Bingo Game


Students are still DC dreaming

This school year has been a learning experience for both students and teachers as we attempt to send 100 students to Washington D.C. for an educational journey. Our school has learned the ins and outs of fundraising and have been galvanized as a community as we work feverishly to make these students’ dreams come true.

Have a product? We’ve sold it.

Like tamales? Our moms make half a dozen varieties.

Know about marketing, profit margins, and price points? Our students do too.

This being our first year undertaking this endeavor has brought about moments of hilarity.  Take Bingo Night.  Three times we have tried to hold a bingo night but have been stymied by our lack of knowledge of  fundraising “rules” in our school system.

  • We could not hold it in the evening due to safety concerns (we are in South Central L.A.)
  • But we could hold it in the evening if we obtain security
  • We obtained off duty security workers (some dads in the group) but were told they needed to be district employees
  • We tried to get a school police officer but was told they only work in pairs and would need to be paid overtime (this would wipe out our profit margin)
  • We decided to hold the event off campus at a parent’s house but our flyer that was sent home indicated the event was sponsored by the school and the district refused to take the liability risk should an unsavory incident occur off-campus under the auspices of LAUSD
  • In the end, we were told bingo is gambling and it will never be allowed in the school, period.

Students prepare bingo prizes

Now all of these regs were shared with us with sadness and frustration.  No malice was intended, as the school and district have been as supportive as we could hope.  It’s just that a school in our part of town trying to do something like this is not a part of anyone’s reality.  It’s a foreign idea for many, and they are just as confused about procedures as we are.


Bingo prizes waiting to be won

Nonetheless, the parents and students persevere. We connect through text and social media to get the word out quickly. We send robocalls to parents about needed items and have taken over a storage closet in the admin building. Our parents roam the campus with knowledge and authority and know how to contact the plant manager when they need carts, electrical connections, and ice. Staff members have each gained an average of five pounds in support of DC sales.  Students have gained an air of confidence and assertiveness that will benefit them for a lifetime.

As we approach the final payment deadline in April, we are proud of raising over $100,000 through parent payments, scholarships from Worldstrides (our travel company), donations, and fundraising.  We have one major fundraiser happening in April with A Piece of Cake, and then we will be racing toward the finish line in June to be able to secure our plane tickets and hotel rooms.

We have positive thoughts about being able to secure the final $40,000 in funds that we will need to send our hard working students to Washington.  For students who have experience so much disappointment in their lives, this school community will not let them down. We are the Mighty Champions.

Those interested in making an electronic donation can click on the link below and enter the following information:

LINK:  https://olr.worldstrides.net/scripts/cgiip.exe/RegisterOnline/PaymentLogin.htm?ttype=

ACCOUNT NUMBER:  101968883

LAST NAME: Infante

The funds you donate to this account will be spread evenly among all students.  Thanks for reading!