Our Mission & History
Liza Bercovici established The Gabriella Foundation in December 1999.
Six months earlier, in July, Liza’s 13-year-old daughter Gabriella had died in an automobile accident while the family was on a biking trip in the Grand Tetons. As Liza grieved, she realized she wanted to dedicate herself to honoring Gabri’s memory.
Gabri loved to dance. It had been the source of great joy and accomplishment. Physical exercise, discipline, practice, camaraderie, and the experience of building to a performance – all of this had benefitted Gabri. Liza knew that those values could be learned in dance class, and she felt that giving other children the opportunity to dance might improve their lives as well.
Inspired by news of a low-cost dance program for inner-city children in Santa Ana, Liza decided to create such a program in Los Angeles as a legacy for her daughter. She gave up her law practice and, although she had no experience in the worlds of dance or non-profits, set to work.
With the help of her husband, David Axelrad, and the support of her young sons Joe and Jacob, Liza began the monumental task of building a program she called Everybody Dance! She hired Carol Zee, a young dancer and choreographer, to be the Artistic Director. She enlisted the help of many of her friends and colleagues to find a building and create a board of directors for her fledgling non-profit.
Everybody Dance! opened its doors in May of 2000 at The Townhouse, an affordable housing project located in inner-city Los Angeles, with twelve classes serving 35 first-time dancer. From the beginning, the goal was to provide high quality dance instruction at little or no cost to ethnically diverse, economically disadvantaged children.
Within 18 months, demand for more classes was so great that a second studio was opened at the Pueblo Nuevo Episcopal Church near MacArthur Park. Many of the students at this site attended Camino Nuevo Charter Academy and a year later, a third studio opened near the school’s Burlington campus.
Today Everybody Dance! provides dance instruction at 20 sites throughout Los Angeles, serving over 3,200 young people.
It was clear that dance often improved academic achievement. Teachers and parents noticed that students were more engaged, focused and ready to learn.
Liza decided to open the first dance-themed charter school in the United States. She believed that the same rigor dance provided could be carried over into the classroom.
Gabriella Charter School opened in 2005. With dance integral to the curriculum, the principal, Susan Gurman, and her energetic young faculty created a culture of high expectations and a spirit of joy in the classrooms. Over the years, the school has grown into a unique, Title 1 K-8 school, winning recognition as one of the best charter schools in California.
In 2018, a second charter school opened in South LA.
The Gabriella Foundation and Gabriella Charter Schools continue to enhance their partnership through strategic collaboration and cooperation wherever possible.
One family’s vision has changed thousands of lives.
Mission, Vision & Values
The Mission of The Gabriella Foundation is to transform lives and communities through the power of high-quality dance education in low-income areas of Los Angeles.
Our Vision is for The Gabriella Foundation to cultivate in our young students of dance the lifetime skills of collaboration, discipline and self-expression so they become confident and engaged participants in their education, career and community.
Our Values are:
- High expectations. We expect focus and commitment from our youth, and our youth in return expect the best of themselves.
- Potential. We believe in the innate strength, creativity and potential of every young person we serve.
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. We respect all people and perspectives and strive to provide the support every person needs to fully participate.
- Safe Community. We believe a safe environment that engages the whole family makes it possible for youth to thrive.
In all our efforts to transform the lives of low-income youth through high-quality dance education, The Gabriella Foundation is committed to incorporating Diversity Equity & Inclusion practices at all levels of organizational decision-making, planning, implementation and evaluation. Our key DEI values are: All voices sought out and heard; a culture of openness, respect and listening; transparency in organizational practices; equity and inclusion in staff hiring and Board recruitment; and, community responsiveness in programming.
In 2020-21, The Gabriella Foundation’s Everybody Dance! program is providing high-quality, in/after-school dance education to over 3,200 low-income children and youth at 20 sites throughout Los Angeles. On average, students stay with our program for 7+ years and 30% study more than one dance form – the depth of learning they experience becoming a part of them as they transition into post-high school college and career pursuits. Everybody Dance! is anything but fleeting:
- 99% of students surveyed say that Everybody Dance! improves their physical fitness
- 94% said their self-esteem improved
- 97%, their self-efficacy
- 96% their sense of being supported by friends and the community.