We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Ross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in Denver and moved to the Los Angeles area when I was 10. I grew up in a family that was very focused on service. My father was a VISTA in the 70s, a precursor to the AmeriCorps program. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom being active in the community- volunteering at Children’s Hospital and bringing me along. By the time I was six, I was licking stamps for Congressional campaigns (when you still had to lick stamps!). I understood from a very early age that I had been afforded a lot of privelege and that I had an obligation to pay that forward. That is why I gravitated to a career in the non-profit sector, I could leverage my skills and experiences to address the systemic barriers that are put in front of others.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I co-founded my first non-profit organization when I was 19 years old. Some friends from college and I were distressed about how disconnected our generation was from politics, but observed that they were volunteering at record rates. We knew there was an opportunity to connect their work in the community to public policy and decision makers to make systemic changes. We ran a fellowship program for college students for four years and have over 80 alumni who have gone on to do incredible things, including several who are working in the current administration. But we learned along the way that running a non-profit organization was incredibly hard work- you have many of the same elements of running a business: strategy, budgeting, HR and people management, marketing and communications and more, with the added elements of fundraising and managing a board. We eventually had to close that organzation- which happens to a lot of nacsent non-profits, but it was the best possible crash course I could have asked for to prepare me for the rest of my career.
After we closed that organization, I moved back to Los Angeles where I had grown up. Not long after, I had the opportunity to join the start up team for City Year Los Angeles. I had worked very closely with City Year when I lived in Boston and I deeply admired what they had built- contributing to the creation of AmeriCorps and giving thousands (now millions) of young people the opportunity to do a year of national service and give back to their community in a meaningful way. I was thrilled to help bring the program to my own hometown. I ultimately worked at City Year for almost 15 years, building the fundraising program and over time expanding my reach to also oversee government and community relations, marketing and communications and eventually the whole organization as Interim Executive Director. In my time, City Year LA’s annual budget grew from $2M to $16M. I helped create “Spring Break,” an annual event that now raises $2M annually and spearheaded the first ever line item in the state budget for programs like ours, eventually securing $10M to deepen City Year’s impact in California.
After I left City Year, I knew I wanted a challenge where I could really make my mark and I was excited when I found the opportunity to be the first CEO of Girls Inc. of Los Angeles. Girls Inc. is an 158 year-old national organization but has only been in Los Angeles since 2016. Like many organizations emerging from the pandemic, we needed to look at our previous work and partnerships and determine if they were right for what the community needed now. Girls in systemically under-resourced communities were particularly hard hit by the pandemic and are showing significant need for social-emotional support. In partnership with an incredible Board of Directors, I have been working to build out a new programmatic strategy focused on feeder patterns of schools in key neighborhoods so girls can grow up with our programs as they move from elementary to middle to high school. I have also been working to strengthen our fundraising- we launched our Inaugural “LA Girls Rise” event in May where we raised $550,000 in support of our work. That funding will enable us to serve full-time in five schools this fall. In October on the International Day of the Girl, we are launching a Women’s Leadership Breakfast hosted by Chief, the incredible women’s leadership organization, to engage more female executives in our mission.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I didn’t know about the Hollywood Reservior until I moved to the Valley seven years ago. Now it is one of my favorite walks- you are in the middle of the city and you see deer, turtles, and get incredible views of the Hollywood Sign and the city. You also can’t beat the hike from Fern Dell in Griffith Park up to the Observatory. Trails Cafe has delicious treats. I also love the Barnsdall Art Park for views of the city. Hopefully they will bring the wine tasting back one day!
I love exposing my 5 year-old son to art so I love that every child under 18 in LA County gets a pass to LACMA. I took him all the time as a baby and need to get back into the habit now that he is vaccinated and I feel more comfortable taking him places. In that area, I love the Original LA Farmers Market for lunch. It showcases the diversity and history of LA all in one place and I love that you can get a little bit of everything- although I am partial to Trejo’s Tacos.
My latest obsession is BOLT EaHo, a totally unassuming cafe in East Hollywood on Hollywood Blvd. The food is amazing and they have a secluded back patio that is perfect for meetings and catching up with friends.
The Hollywood Bowl is one of my favorite places in all of Los Angeles. I especially love when they pay tribute to John Williams and his movie scores. I can’t wait to take my son in a few years so he can experience his favorite music from “Star Wars” with a full orchestra.
I also love the theater and am thrilled that plays are back and that the theaters are prioritizing making everyone feel safe by checking vaccines and still requiring masks. I especially love the Geffen Playhouse, I think it is a magical space.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have been extraordinarily lucky to have a series of women in my life who have opened doors for me, pushed me to dream bigger and ask “why not me?” That is why I jumped at the opportunity to be CEO of Girls Inc. of Los Angeles. If I can help create an environment for girls where they feel that same kind of support and can tap into their strength and amplify their talents, I owe it to the women who did that for me.
Event photos: Jordan Strauss School Photos: Deutsch LA