Maria D’Angelo’s story is a riveting account of how personal experience and strength developed into a desire to truly change the lives of those around her: She moved from Naples, Italy to Staten Island, New York, with her family at the age of 13. No one in her family spoke English. Her father, Frank, had been in the city for three years, trying hard to make a life for his family until they finally arrived. Life was very hard, but Maria and her brother Ciro and sister Elena, learned to develop and improve themselves with pride and a great sense of what they could be in the future.
She went on to become a high school English teacher, and an interpreter at the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Her brother and sister went on to have wonderful careers in computers, real estate, and the fashion business, and to raise terrific families. Throughout their lives, they have continued to be a genuine, crucial support system for each other. It was not until the early 1990s when Maria moved to Southern California, and truly found her “mission” in life:
In the summer of 1993, Maria D’Angelo founded The Children’s Lifesaving Foundation (CLF). Maria’s desire to work with young people stems from her initial experiences as a volunteer at a homeless shelter in Central Los Angeles, as well as her own experiences as an immigrant child in America, and her years teaching in New York.
At that shelter, she met a little eight-year-old boy who did not know how to read. Realizing the boy had never set foot in a classroom, she asked the boy why. He answered vaguely that it was because he had never had a physical exam. Maria took the boy for a physical the very next week, and realized there were many more children in similar situations. She started meeting with doctors and arranging for free surgeries, check-ups and dental exams. This is how the CLF came into being.
As the months passed, Maria realized there were very few opportunities for children living in shelters and the inner-city to truly get off of the streets; that their most innocent years were being stolen by the lure of gangs, easy money and crime. Many of these children had not been out of their immediate neighborhood, much less to the beach, a nice restaurant, the movies or the circus. Seeing the very dangerous and life-threatening environments these children were living in on a day-to-day basis, she knew she had to expand the scope of what she was currently doing- and do something immediate and life-changing to enhance and alter the course of these children’s lives.
She began looking for a space to bring the children: A setting that would improve and enrich their lives with arts, sports and nature. With the help of a good friend, Dr. Chris Landon of Ventura, they convinced the National Park Service to reopen an old Boy Scout camp called the Circle X Ranch, if her group of friends and volunteers agreed to refurbish it and bring it up to health code.
The Circle X Ranch is located in the gorgeous Santa Monica Mountains, on 1700 acres of beautiful, natural, unspoiled land. Since July 7th, 1993, over 30,500 at-risk and homeless children, teens and their families have attended the camps at the Circle X Ranch. They have come from shelters, group homes, churches and agencies dealing with at-risk youth in L.A. and Ventura counties.
In 1994, Maria then created the Adopt-A-Family Program, which allows for homeless families who are ready and emotionally able to move out of a shelter environment into a home environment. As Maria began meeting the mothers of these children living in shelters, she realized how truly bright most of them were, and how ready they were to leave Welfare behind, and move from the shelter into a new home.
Maria, having come to America at a young age herself, knew how difficult it was to find one’s own place in America as an immigrant, and also, how hard it was to struggle with very little. But her main goal was this: She wanted them to really learn how to be on their own.
Special Awards and Recognition:
2015-People Magazine Heroes Among Us Video Feature
2015-L.A. Dodgers Community Hero Award
2014-Points of Light Service Honoree
2013- People Magazine “Hero Among Us” Award & Featured in print & online versions of the magazine
2013-One of Ten L’Oreal Paris Worth Award
2013-Appeared on the Steve Harvey Show as a Local Hero
2013-Non-Profit of the Year-L.A. Business Journal
2013-Jane Seymour’s Open Heart Foundation Award
2007-Certificate of Recognition for “Outstanding Services Provided to LA Youth” to the CLF by Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa
2005- Local Hero Award-Maria D’Angelo -Bank of America Foundation
2003, 2004 & 2005 & 2006-Top 100 National “Volvo For Life Hero” Awards
Martin Luther King, Jr. Spirit of the Dream Award-Agape Spiritual Institute
Malibu “Dolphin of the Year” Award for Outstanding Social Service the Year Award for Outstanding Social Service