Manhattan Beach resident Patricia Jones has changed thousands of lives for the better. But she wouldn’t be one to take credit for it. Instead, she’d humbly say there are men and women doing good around the world every day. Then she’d point to the school principals, mentors, board members and children whom she works. They are the true heroes, the ones who do the work.
What she would say is true—and yet, it’s not. There are people who do good every day, and her volunteers and students put in a lot of work. But to give credit where credit is due, their lives are transformed thanks to her vision.
Eighteen years ago, Jones founded the P.S. I Love You foundation, born out of several ways that she’d seen love to change lives. The name comes from a simple way her mom showed her love every day growing up, with a note of “P.S. I love you” on her school lunch bag.
Jones was inspired by her mother’s daily actions and her sister’s commitment to impoverished people in Haiti, so strong that she moved to the island nation years ago. Jones is also driven by the love of a stranger she met—a great-grandmother who quit her job to care for her five great-grandchildren while their mom and grandma were in prison. These were all little acts and big heroes blazing a path through Jones’ heart, until she realized what she needed to do. Jones needed to teach the world about compassion and love, and she needed to do it through children.
Today, P.S. I Love You is a multifaceted organization that shows children compassion, responsibility, empathy, self-awareness and strength through a concept and a lens of love and acceptance, through conversation, yoga, volleyball and a day at the beach.
The core of her program is a class supported by Title I funds. Jones trains volunteers to teach 18-week programs in inner city South Bay schools, one hour a week, working with children identified as high risk by teachers and counselors. These are kids who are growing up around gangs and violence. She wants to show them that there’s a way out. They always have a choice.
“Building camaraderie and the ability to share and to understand that if I feel lonely, and that cool kid feels lonely too, then there’s nothing wrong with me,” said Jones, talking about how she trains the children to understand what’s wrong, and how to fix it. “If I don’t feel smart, what do I do to feel smart? If I don’t feel like I’m connected, what to do to feel connected? When I wake up in the morning and I’m outside my happiness circle, how do I get back in?”
Students learn a mantra that they repeat every day, reaffirming their self-worth and impact on the world around them.
Retired Manhattan Beach resident Mark Lipps is one of the P.S. I Love You teachers. He volunteers at Hawthorne Middle School bright and early every Monday morning, working with seventh-graders. Lipps was looking for a way to give back to the community in the post-work phase of his life, and recalled an early love for teaching and coaching. He signed up as a school substitute, but found the meaning behind education with P.S. I Love You — that draw he felt to make a difference and share some wisdom.
“Most people who want to go into teaching, this is the reason they do it, because they think they can give back to these kids and make them whole individuals going forward,” said Lipps. “One of these areas that we’re really lacking is outside of academics, teaching kids to feel good about themselves, and how to achieve that.”
His classroom, like all P.S. I Love You classrooms, is a judgment free zone. Kids are taught alternatives to fight or flight; they’re taught to work through problems and face them head on. Bullying, teasing and feelings of isolation are brought out into the open, and the students examine serious moral questions through open, honest, accepting conversation.
“If someone’s teasing or bullying, we’ll call them out on it,” said Lipps. “We’ll root it out. We’ll deal with conflict management. We’ll teach them how to deal with conflict management. You know that stuff’s happening on the playground, so how do you deal with it?”
He’s seen how the kids change. In the first weeks, they show up to class tired, and sometimes a little unengaged. But as time moves forward, they learn that it is OK to speak up and to shed their masks. They say how they are feeling and share joys, gratitude, frustration and fear.
Violence among students who participate in the program is down, according to reports that Jones receives from school principals. Lipps has seen friendships form in his class, and he’s seen the de-escalation skills he teaches used by students in the hallways and on the playground. It’s empathetic education that works, and something that the academic instructors tell volunteers they are thankful for. The wonderful thing is, anyone can be trained to be a leader of a class. Jones looks for instructors who want to make a difference in kids’ lives, and then she trains them on the 18-week module, including mirroring and shadowing a current volunteer.
Lipps, who started teaching at the beginning of this school year, is the only male instructor that P.S. I Love You has, but they are looking for more.
Board member Kathleen Terry-Manna helps Jones recruit volunteers.
“Young boys need men to model,” said Terry-Manna. “Men, get involved. This is not just a female thing.”
She said that there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in and out of the classroom for men and women, from the annual beach day to volunteer work that can be done from home. The foundation always needs people willing to donate time or money.
“If (readers) want to help at-risk kids and they’re interested in social emotional learning, it’s an ideal place for looking for ways that they can be involved,” said Terry-Manna. “Once they’ve gone to the website, I always like people to contact me because then I can really customize an opportunity that really fits their time and their talents and their availability.”
As P.S. I Love You looks toward the future, Jones would like to reach even more children, not only in the inner city schools. She can see the value of empathy training for students from all walks of life, and she’s hoping to pilot an after-school program in Manhattan Beach this year.
Jones and the P.S. I Love You board are also considering whether to develop a curriculum that can be sold to schools outside of Los Angeles and taught by classroom teachers, as a way to expand the program’s reach. It’s exciting to imagine the opportunities.
Some days, Jones admitted that it is hard to run a foundation. There are times she feels like she should go find work full-time to provide for her family. But then she remembers why she does this.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Jones. “It feels like a big responsibility. Every time I want to give up … I realize these kids are going to be standing next to my kids. It’s really overwhelming. It’s really awesome that the people who’ve been involved really see the impact.”
And that brings her focus right back to the nonprofit, the donors, the principals and volunteers who know how important the work is.