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Fain Award Winner- Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

Temple Isaiah created a temple–public school partnership that mutually benefits both institutions through purpose-driven dialogue, empowerment, and relationship-building.

Community Contact Information:

Temple Isaiah

Los Angeles, CA



  • Build bridges between Santee Education Complex, University High School, the city of Los Angeles and their faith institution
  • Positively influence the lives of individual students through mentorship, internship, dialogue and engaging programming
  • Enable students to expand their world experience
  • Help students form and fulfill goals such as going to college and/or developing a career
  • Introduce students to positive Jewish values
  • Teach other institutions how to create a mutually beneficial partnership between a school and a faith community
  • Inspire the belief that the impossible can be accomplished with organized people and a lot of heart and soul
  • Unify talent and resources of Temple Isaiah for a greater good.
  • Improve the lives of congregants through deepened sense of purpose and meaning and inspire congregants to make a difference and take on leadership roles
  • Activate Temple Isaiah’s religious school students in innovative educational programming such as East-West Experiences, Boyle Heights, Holocaust/Gang studies


Temple Isaiah developed a comprehensive and sustainable mentorship program aimed at:

  1. enabling students to broaden their world experience;
  2. helping students to reach a goal of being the first in their family to graduate from high school; and
  3. showing students a pathway to college.


In the fall of 2008, Rabbi Zoe Klein, senior rabbi of Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, and then Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa traveled together to Israel. There, they began a conversation about a partnership between one of the mayor’s Los Angeles Partnership schools and Temple Isaiah. Soon after, a small group of congregants started laying the foundation of an exciting relationship with Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles. In 2008 Santee had 3500 students and a graduation rate of 65%. The initial partnership meeting brought together Santee administrators and a cohort of six Temple Isaiah congregants. The following March, thirty Santee seniors traveled from their school to the Skirball Cultural Center where we developed ideas together about a program that might assist students in being successful in high school and beyond. The central idea that resonated with all stakeholders, and especially the students, was the importance for students to have mentors to help them grow and broaden their perspectives. These early conversations led to a mission statement and the framework of a program. Six weeks later, Temple Isaiah congregants and clergy met the same students at Santee to continue the conversation one-on-one. 

Project Implementation:

In 2009, Roots and Wings kicked off its program with twelve mentors and twelve mentees who were starting their sophomore year. At the first event, they gathered together for a program at Temple Isaiah, where they learned about Temple Isaiah's motto “Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue” and toured the synagogue. They also made an excursion to Fox Studios and enjoyed lunch at Factors Deli -- some students tasting their first matzoh ball soup and corned beef on rye. At Santee, more students asked to join the program as word spread that the mentees were benefitting from meaningful conversations, personal attention and group interaction.

Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters continued to support Roots and Wings for two years by providing icebreakers, team building exercises, and professional guidance. Isaians furnished healthy snacks and surprised students with holiday gifts and “end of the year” celebrations. In their second year, the number of mentees doubled to 29 and likewise the number of mentors increased. They also added a second meeting each month, and at the end of their second year, they were ready to move forward without the organizational support of Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

During their first two years, they took their mentees on field trips that introduced them to new areas of our city. Surprisingly to some mentors, many of the students had never traveled beyond a three-mile radius from their homes. They enjoyed the beach in Santa Monica, participating in their first drum circle and volleyball in the sand; they traveled together to museums; and explored UCLA. Their tour at UCLA gave them a unique opportunity to meet with a panel of undocumented students who explained how they gained admission to UCLA and managed to pay for their education without financial aid. They also brought guest speakers to Santee, some of whom had graduated from Santee several years earlier and were now seniors at local state colleges and universities. Most significantly, however, was the time shared one-on-one. Mentors agree that while the relationships have impacted their mentees in many positive ways, their own experience has been deeply meaningful as a way to give back to their larger Los Angeles community.

In September 2012, Roots and Wings started again at Santee with seventeen mentors and mentees and opened a new program at University High School in West Los Angeles with fifteen mentors and mentees, a school with an even more diverse student population. Like Santee, many University High School students will be the first in their family to attend college. 


  • All students have stayed in the program to completion and their attendance is high.
  • The program has buy-in from administrators and staff and promotes attendance and student success.
  •  Attendance of mentors is outstanding and a large number plan to return for a third cycle of mentees at Santee and a second cycle at University High School.
  •  Friends of participating students ask how they can participate.
  •  In the first graduating group, 85% continued their education; this year, 94% plan to attend college.
  •  More than one-half of first graduating class remains in contact with their mentors.

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