Second Annual Garden Gala 2016

What A Magical Night!


September 24, 2016
Second Annual El Nido Garden Gala

El Nido Family Centers’ Second Annual Garden Gala Celebrated Creativity, Collaboration and Transformation

Luz Avila-Kyncl, MSW, CHC, and Jane Johnston Honored
(Beverly Hills, CA) At El Nido Family Centers’ Second Annual Garden Gala on Saturday, September 24th, the over 300 guests who filled Robinson Gardens’ expansive grounds enjoyed docent-led garden tours of the landmark Beverly Hills estate, tastes from top LA chefs, libations, dinner, entertainment and a fast- moving live auction.

The true spotlight, however, was on a group of at-risk young people who showcased their photography, culinary and writing accomplishments, talents they honed participating in El Nido’s education and mentoring programs. The Garden Gala is the rare event where guests are personally able to meet the young people whose lives have been dramatically transformed as a result of El Nido’s programs.

Funds raised will go to the 91-year-old nonprofit’s services that helps over 10,000 Los Angeles County youth, families and children each year.


El Nido youth in the Garden to Table program collaborated on tastings with chefs including Broken Spanish chef/owner Ray Garcia (GQ magazine’s Best Chef of 2015); Garden Gala honorary committee member Jimmy Shaw, Loteria Grill owner and executive chef; Ryan Legaux, Harold & Belle’s owner and executive chef; and Juan Torres, Sotto sous chef. The Garden to Table curriculum includes urban gardening, hands-on cooking instruction and budgeting skills taught by Max Kaplan of Hugo’s restaurants.

The young photographers in El Nido’s Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program showcased their talents in “My LA…A City Seen through the Eyes of El Nido’s Teens,” a photography exhibition from GRYD’s current and alumni photographers. The GRYD photos reflected the students’ explorations and visits to iconic LA sites led by professional photographer Richard Doran.

Teen clients from various El Nido programs presented dramatic readings of their own writings, based on the theme “My Life’s Journey.” The teens, who have dealt with gang activity, abuse, bullying and teen parenting issues, were spotlighted in the audience as they told their moving stories.

We were so thrilled to co-chair the Garden Gala this year because it was truly a celebration of El Nido — from our youth photographers, to our culinary students, to the client testimonials, to honoring our very own Jane Johnston and Luz Kyncl. We were honored to bring together the El Nido family to share our success stories with old and new friends alike,” said Laurie Spivak and Lucy Zepp, co-chairs of the Gala.

Luz Avila-Kyncl, MSW, CHC a nutrition coach and wellness counselor, received the Rose Norton Volunteer of the Year Award for her countless hours developing and teaching a cooking and nutrition curriculum at El Nido Family Centers in South Los Angeles. Kyncl, who has a long history with El Nido, also serves on its Board of Directors, making an immediate and lasting impact.  Her 16-year-old daughter, Isabella, a student at Marlborough School, was also recognized for developing and implementing a coding curriculum for girls at El Nido’s site in South Los Angeles.

Jane Johnston, a management advisor to El Nido’s executive directors and board members, received the Community Impact Award for transforming the lives of over 250,000 clients since she first came on board with El Nido in 1982. Johnston was also recognized for the many years advising four El Nido executive directors during the agency’s growth and diversification in its programs and outreach.

We are thankful to our generous Garden Gala 2016 EVENT SPONSORS
Kaiser Permanente, Luz and Robert Kyncl, Rose Norton and Phil Savenick

We are also grateful to our SUPPORTING SPONSORS
Alliant Event Services; Stuart and Susie Berton; Best Events; First 5 LA; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP; Golden Road Brewing; Karma Tequila; media sponsor Los Angeles magazine; Steve Poretzky and Patty Woo; Fred and Marta Samulon; Jesse and Danielle Shapiro; Jason and Laurie Spivak; YouTube

El Nido’s Garden Gala 2016 HONORARY COMMITTEE included:
Alex Carloss, YouTube; Tom & Emily Kaplan, Hugo’s Restaurants;
Carole Keen, Carson Coordinating Council; Sheila Kuehl, Los Angeles County Supervisor District 3; Robert Kyncl, YouTube; Kathy Perez, ESPN;
Jesse Shapiro, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP;
Chef Jimmy Shaw, Loteria Grill;
Bob & Leslie Spivak, Grill Concepts;
Jason Spivak, Sony Pictures Entertainment;
Lesley Bargar Suter, Los Angeles magazine, and Jon Zepp, YouTube.

Our continued appreciation to ROBINSON GARDENS, and the Friends of Robinson Gardens, a nonprofit organization that maintains the lush, six-acre grounds, for being the Garden Gala’s event sponsor for the last two years. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Robinson Gardens estate was built in 1911 and originally owned by Virginia and Harry Robinson of LA’s J. W. Robinson department store fame. El Nido has partnered with this historic estate on its 2015 and 2016 Garden Galas. Robinson Gardens Website.

Honoree 2016

Founder, Salud con Luz,
El Nido Board Member

El Nido is thrilled this year to be honoring one of its own, Luz Avila-Kyncl. Luz’s first encounter with El Nido came in 1997-98, when she worked as an intern while earning her Masters’ Degree in Social Work. She returned to serve on the Board of Directors in 2014, and since then, has made an immediate and lasting impact. Her dedication and service has gone well beyond substantial financial support. She has created a curriculum in cooking and nutrition which she herself teaches to El Nido clients at our South Los Angeles FamilySource Center. Also, together with her daughter and Marlborough School, she has developed and implemented a coding curriculum for El Nido youth from the South L.A. area.

Luz spent 15 years working as a family and child therapist helping adults, children, and families suffering from mental, emotional, and behavioral issues. After struggling with her own health for many years, she was completely healed through changes in her diet and lifestyle. That experience ignited a passion about nutrition and she realized that she wanted to help people heal, not just emotionally and mentally, but physically and spiritually. She is now a nutrition coach and wellness counselor, devoted to empowering women, parents and families to seek health awareness in order to live happier lives. With experience in family nutrition, weight management and stress relief, Luz offers educational workshops to improve health in schools and organizations, such as El Nido. In her private practice she helps individuals and families with weight problems, self-esteem, eating disorders, inactivity and stress.

Most recently, Luz has created and launched her own YouTube channel, “Salud Con Luz,” wherein she shares tips and advice in adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. She is also a contributing writer to the the magazine Siempre Mujer.

Luz received her health coaching degree from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from the State University of New York at New Paltz and a Master in Social Welfare from UCLA. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Nutrition and Integrated Health from Maryland University. She is married, and she and her husband Robert have two beautiful daughters.

Community Impact 2016
Jane Johnston

Johnston & Associates

There have been four executive directors at El Nido Family Centers since 1982, 57 years after our founding. But only one Jane Johnston.
Since that year, she has served those executives and the board of directors as a management advisor with a broad and crucial portfolio. Tracking and interpreting Los Angeles’s evolving demands for public intervention to help children and families most in need as the population grew and changed. Sharing research findings about trends in service delivery. Collaboratively envisioning, designing and launching new programs. Brainstorming internal reorganization to manage increasing and diverse services. And not unimportantly, playing the major role in winning financial support from government and private sector donors to fund our mission.
“Jane has been a constant, consistent and constructive force,” says El Nido Executive Director Liz Herrera, who in the same year as Jane, began her long association with the agency as an intern while studying for her Masters in Social Welfare from UCLA. “Brilliant and dedicated, she has counseled and guided me and three previous executive directors wisely on a sweeping variety of functions essential to our success. She truly has been and is a vital member of our El Nido family.”
For almost 35 years of outstanding and productive leadership, El Nido is delighted to recognize Jane as an honoree at our 2016 Garden Gala celebration.
Jane grew up in New Orleans, attended Wellesley College near Boston and then studied psychology at UCLA and Cal State LA. She brought to El Nido broad experience staffing and advising dozens of other social welfare agencies in such diverse fields as public interest law, delinquency prevention, mental health, domestic violence, suicide prevention and after-school programs.
From her expert perspective, Jane offers key observations about El Nido’s vitality in recent decades. She says it originates from both its allegiance to true social work principles and from focused and responsive innovation to combat emerging social problems since the late 1970s — such as teen parenting, gangs and school dropout. The purposeful shift from traditional facility-based social work to community-based outreach to clients in their homes, schools and churches served additional needy people in a greater number of disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Jane shares Liz’s view that the agency’s ten-fold growth since both joined El Nido has been “organic,” arising thoughtfully from our 91-year experience. Success increasingly boosted the reach and power of our central mission. And this is why we are recognized in charitable circles in Los Angeles as especially attuned to and effective in meeting new social welfare challenges for our county’s most troubled children and families.

The Venue

Robinson Gardens
1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills, CA

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Robinson Gardens estate was built in 1911 and originally owned by Virginia and Harry Robinson of LA’s J. W. Robinson department store fame. On the passing of Virginia Robinson, the estate was bequeathed to the County of Los Angeles and today is part of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The County, along with Friends of Robinson Gardens, a non-profit organization, maintains the lush, six acre-grounds that include an awe-inspiring Australian King Palm forest and an urban farm where history and science come to life for visiting schoolchildren.