We had the good fortune of connecting with Zack LaGuardia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zack, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Kits With Kindness (KWK) Non Profit Organization was started during the heart of the Coronavirus Pandemic. The inspiration behind starting Kits With Kindness was the idea that I would use a disheartening situation and try to bring healing and comfort to people who could desperately use the help. KWK started as a one man volunteer effort, as I anticipated that the rate of homelessness would surely be increasing as many companies were laying off employees. To assist those who were down on their luck and often overlooked in society, I went to the 99 Cent Store and started putting together 50 kits of food and hygiene products that would hopefully at the very least bring some joy to those who were living on the streets. Included in each kit was also a handwritten note of encouragement to let the individuals know that I am rooting for them, that they have value on this earth and that they are loved. Fast forward a week later after delivering those initial kits, and I came across a man sitting on the side of the freeway, still digging into that same kit I had delivered days earlier. I was amazed: this man was using my kit as his day to day lifeline. At that point I realized I could make a profound difference if I wanted to expand this effort. While still working my full time job at California Baptist University, I began to recruit others to join in my effort. Over the past 11 months, Kits With Kindness has delivered 200 food and hygiene kits monthly and incorporated an additional 30 pet kits for homeless pets, and another 50 specifically filled with feminine products. The one man volunteer effort has since grown to over 500 individuals throughout the Inland Empire giving us their time, as well as progressed into a federally recognized 501 c 3 Non Profit Organization.
The KWK story is a great example of how good can come out of negative situations when you make a conscious decision to be kind and loving to those around you.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
After high school I quickly realized that my childhood dream of becoming a professional athlete was not going to be reached in this lifetime. My focus then shifted to following my passion to work in sports. I worked for years as a high school basketball coach, later also working at the collegiate level and training NBA players during summers as well. At age 24 after obtaining my Masters degree from Ithaca College in Upstate, New York (talk about a culture shock for an LA beach boy), I returned to my college Alma Mater and accepted a position as Director of Ticketing and Sales at Loyola Marymount University. At the time, I knew nothing of sales or athletic ticketing, but it allowed me to still be involved in collegiate sports, while working for a university I was proud to attend. After 4 years at Loyola Marymount, I was fortunate enough to accept a similar position at California Baptist University in Riverside, CA where I have been the Director of Ticketing and Sales for the last 5 years. It is here, in Riverside, CA that I have been able to start this unbelievably rewarding Non Profit Organization, Kits With KIndness, that has connected 500+ kind hearted individuals who are fully committed to improving the lives of individuals who are down on their luck and living on the streets.
While the ticketing jargon may seem boring, I think my career path is one that is notable because it gives such credence to the saying “success is not a destination, its a journey”. When people were in my ear, questioning why I would want to go to Ithaca College for “mild” 7 degree winters and leave beautiful sunny Southern California, I knew that it would be a place I could grow for 18 months, obtain my much needed Masters degree, and allow for my to expand my comfort zone. My masters led me to getting my first salary, Director job within a Division 1 Athletics Program at age 24– something I was very proud of.
Four years later, as I was beginning to have success at the position I was in, a wonderful position opened up at California Baptist University as they were making the transition to Division 1 Athletics. Countless people again questioned why I would want to leave my place of living and work and family whom lived by the beach to go work for a school that many in my circle had frankly never heard of. However, I trusted my gut and knew it was a move that would propel my growth, accentuate my skills, and allow me to make a difference. For the past 5 years I have spearheaded campaigns that have amounted to exponential growth in revenue and attendance. CBU in just 3 years at the Division 1 Level, is already 4th in all of Southern California in basketball attendance. I am very proud of that accomplishment.
The journey from Los Angeles, to Ithaca, back to Los Angeles, and then to Riverside eventually has led me to being a position where I had the connections and resources to start Kits With Kindness non profit organization in my spare time. Kits With Kindness has been one of the most impactful occurrences in my life and I would have never been in this situation if not for the journey that brought me here.
Over the past 11 months I have founded, fundraised, managed, and executed strategy for Kits With Kindness Non Profit Organization, an organization designed to spread kindness, inspire hope and restore dignity to the homeless community. Every month we fundraise for, gather supplies, pack and deliver 200 kits filled with ample amounts of food and hygiene items to last homeless individuals and pets 2-3 weeks. What started as a volunteer effort with just myself driving around my community passing out 50 kits in Ziplock bags to those on the street, has now turned in to a full operation of 500+ volunteers graciously giving of their time to help us deliver over 2,000 kits in the past 10 months to those in need. The volunteer effort has also now evolved into a federally recognized 501 c 3 non profit organization, something I am very proud of. That process is not easy!
Above all, Kits With Kindness has allowed me to fulfill my number one professional goal that I have set out to accomplish from Day 1: the ability to make a profound positive difference in the lives of those around me. Ever since I was a little boy, my mom would always shout out to me “Make a difference” as my lasting words as I drove away to school. Those words I have always carried with me and have aspired to live by both in life, but especially through the workplace. I am finally able to see that tangible difference in the smiles and gratefulness of our recipients.
The key lessons that I have learned that I would like people to know are as follows:
-Trust yourself and trust the journey: There will certainly be times where people discourage you from doing things that you feel may be in your best interest. Trust yourself and trust what you feel is best. Your path may not always be the path most traveled. What is best for someone else, may not be best for you. Go the path that will allow YOU to be the most well rounded individual and inspire the greatest amount of growth possible.
-Be kind in all you:We are so conditioned, especially as males, to hide our kindness, hide our sensitivity. Kindness is not a weakness. In fact it is one of the most powerful traits we can possess. Not only do good deeds make those we give them to feel happy, it is beyond rewarding when we can improve someone’s life. Not only that, but sometimes careers come around full circle. Be kind today so that the impression you leave others tomorrow will always be positive.
-Control what you can control and try to bring positives out of negative situations. I started Kits With Kindness in the midst of a pandemic because I knew others would be struggling more than myself with unemployment and layoffs occurring daily. At this point I could either sit in my house, ask why is this happening to us, or I could try to use my free time to do good. My initial decision to start volunteering with the homeless community has allowed me to come into contact with so many wonderful, selfless and kindhearted people in my city, In addition and most importantly it has allowed our organization to bring healing and comfort to over 2,000 homeless individuals who were suffering much more than myself during the pandemic. We can’t always control the situations we find ourselves in, but most times we can control the attitude in which we deal with the situation.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First and foremost, if I am showing someone around LA, I am taking them to my favorite food spots:
– IN n Out- Obviously a nostalgic must for people if they aren’t from the West Coast– Double/Double, Sauce, Lettuce, Pickles, Grilled Onions, and Chopped Chilies if we want to get adventurous. Animal Fries work too.
-Titos Tacos- Still a classic.
-Canters Deli for a pastrami on rye and matzo ball soup
-Portos Bakery— Cheese rolls, carrot cake, potato balls, coconut macaroons, all for a small price. Yummy!
-Hotville Chicken- a taste of Nashville in Baldwin Hills. A must for spicy chicken lovers.
-Jane Enoteca- El Segundo and South Bay’s finest Italian food in my opinion. Scarpinocc is a must!
Places to Visit: the Getty for its culture (can also hike up there), Hollywood for the tourism, Dodger Stadium for its history, Olvera Street, Korea Town, China Town and Little Italy for its diversity, Farmers Market at the grove for an artsy vibe, and a day at the Santa Monica Promenade and Venice Beach to get a little beach life mixed with a little funky pizzazz.
Extra Entertaining Fun: All of the beaches of course– preferably biking them!! Santa Monica, Manhattan, Hermosa, Malibu, Palos Verdes– cant go wrong! Dodger/Angel/Clipper/Laker/Kings/Ducks game. Walk of Fame, Griffith Observatory, Disneyland, Knotts or Six Flags.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would be honored to thank my family and loved ones who always encouraged me to be kind and to make a positive difference. They are the quintessential examples that kindness is one of the strongest traits that we can possess, that a smile is one of the greatest gifts we can give and that dignity, value, and hope are meant for all people, regardless of their current circumstance. You all are my heroes.
Instagram: @kits.with.kindness and @zacharysteven88