ALL TOGETHER — Members of the Gumbo Brothers Band and youths from Students Run L.A. at the Santa Monica Police Activities League gymnasium in Santa Monica. Seated in front are musician Kristen Toedman (left) and project organizer Kristen Pulsifer. Behind them are Johan Stein (left) and Jon McBride, producer of the Gumbo Brothers band. (Argonaut photo by T.W. Brown)

The holiday season brings with it a spirit of giving, lively music and good wishes. And a group of local musicians has combined all three sentiments in its quest to make the season a little brighter for children who are not as fortunate as others.

The Venice-based Gumbo Brothers, a New Orleans style-jazz and funk band, says it is donating 100 percent of the profits from the sale of its holiday CD to Students Run L.A., a mentoring and fitness nonprofit organization for economically disadvantaged youth.

The idea was born three years ago when the leaders of the band, Jon McBride and Johan Stein, were working on their Mardi Gras album, “On Fire.” McBride, who knows the organization’s co-founder Eric Spears, said that the band raised $2,000 last year and would like to double that amount this year.

“My hope is that each year we can increase the numbers and continue to fund what the organization is doing,” he said. “I really respect the work that they are doing there.”

Students Run L.A. provides mentoring to secondary students who are faced with a variety of challenges in their young lives. The youngsters train for the Los Angeles Marathon and are taught how to compete in a positive way and learn to be disciplined and physically fit.

“We are really pleased and happy to partner with (The Gumbo Brothers),” said Michelle Hahn, the executive director of Students Run L.A.

The students are paired with a mentor, typically a teacher or adult volunteer, who helps them train for the marathon as well as assist them with their homework.

“They learn about setting incremental goals and how to make positive life changes,” Hahn explained. “A lot of these kids come from very challenging home environments and difficult economic circumstances, so our mentors take a special interest in them. They really want to see them succeed.”

The Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) has been working with the non-profit for approximately a dozen years, said Karen Humphrey, PAL’s program supervisor.

“Words can’t express how much the running program has done for the kids,” Humphrey said. “The whole mission is to give these kids self-esteem and confidence.”

Students from Mark Twain and Marina del Rey middle schools in Mar Vista and Del Rey, and Venice and Westchester high schools have been participants with Students Run L.A.

When told about the Gumbo Brothers’ donation to the programs, Humphrey responded, “This really makes a difference. A lot of these kids could really use it.”

The CD, called the Gumbo Family Holiday Album, features a number of holiday classics with a New Orleans twist. “Sugar Plum Fairy, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and an a cappella version of “Silent Night” are some of the tunes on the 15-song album, which features 25 musicians and singers.

The music is infused with gospel, jazz and blues, making it an eclectic holiday musical offering and one that McBride and his bandmates are hopeful will be a big seller. The CD can be downloaded at www.thegumbobrothers.com/.

Hahn also noted how important the contribution that McBride and his band are making.

“Every little bit helps,” she said.

The students who participate in the non-profit’s fitness and mentoring initiative run several races in preparation for the marathon, Hahn said, including 5K and 10K races. Students are required to have a physical prior to participating in the big event and the organization supplies each participant with shoes, socks, a T-shirt and nutrition on the day of the race.

Perhaps their most grueling test before the marathon in March will be an 18-mile run in February, where the youngsters will circle the Hansen Dam in the San Fernando Valley twice.

The graduation rate for students who take part in Students Run L.A. is 98 percent, and 95 percent of them plan to attend post secondary schools, according to the non-profit.

Because of the mentoring component of the programs, combined with the physical fitness aspect, Hahn calls it “college mentoring on the run.”

Humphrey said that many of the student runners who participate in programs with her organization have shown great promise throughout the time that she has been at the activities league.

“Several of them have participated in many marathons,” she noted. “It has really been a remarkable program for Santa Monica and for students who have been involved with it.”

Humphrey also mentioned that having students from PAL and Students Run L.A. running in the Los Angeles Marathon next year, which will end in Santa Monica, will make the event “extra special.”

Hahn is thankful for the contributions that the Gumbo Brothers have made in the past and for this year’s philanthropic gift as well.

“We are really grateful that they have chosen us as their partner,” the non-profit’s executive director reiterated. “In these very challenging economic times, we can use all the help that we can get.”

McBride says that he is very satisfied with his holiday CD and with the thought that sales from his music will go to help a number of young people who can utilize it to improve their lives.

“It felt really good to produce an album and give it as a gift,” he said. “This is the season for giving, and I know that what we’re doing will live beyond anything else that I could do.”

For information about Students Run L.A., www.srlastudents.com/.

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