Featured Board Member: Tom Flesh


Helping the Whole Community

When Tom Flesh first heard about the Sheriff’s Youth Foundation from a relative who worked for LASD, as a resident of the city of Los Angeles, he questioned whether he should get involved with a countywide program that didn’t focus directly on the community he lived in. Visiting a youth center, however, erased his doubts. “I quickly learned that the vision of the SYF really did not have any borders,” he says. “The entire community was being served. The more I learned about the SYF and the more I participated in functions and events, the more I realized I wanted to be a part of the mission of this organization.”

Flesh has been interested in law enforcement and public safety for as long as he can remember, and in 1986, when he was recruited by then-Sheriff Sherman Block to join the Board of Directors for the fledgling Foundation, he was also a young father concerned about the welfare of the next generation. “I feared for the future of our children and wanted to participate in a cause that really helped our entire community,” he says. “Providing opportunities to less fortunate children so they would have hope and the chance to lead productive lives was something that had enormous appeal to me.”

Flesh has played many parts on the Board throughout the years and is now its vice chair, overseeing business matters and filling in for the Sheriff at Foundation functions. “My role over the years has evolved as our organization has evolved,” he says. “However, most important is making sure that there is continuity in our existence. We recruit new Board members to keep our organization fresh, and update our internal governance structure to assure transparency and accountability — especially to our investors, who depend on us to make efficient use of their donated funds to assure that we deliver on the intended programs.”

The popularity and success of the SYF’s programs has led to new challenges; enrollment continues to reach record levels in an economic climate where grants, County funding and corporate support are harder to come by. “The greatest challenge that we face is raising the funds necessary so that we can reach every child in need of what we have to offer,” Flesh says. “The recession was a very difficult time that we are still recovering from. We are working to establish funds in perpetuity to enable our programs to continue into the future.”

On the other hand, the recent tough times have also helped demonstrate the SYF’s effectiveness in steering youth away from crime. “When our economy was headed into a recession, there was a fear that the crime rate would increase with the rise in unemployment,” says Flesh. “When the actual experience was a continued reduction in crime rate, the Sheriff attributed this in large part to the positive effects of our programs over the years.”

“This organization is about people caring for other people,” Flesh concludes, crediting SYF’s success to its high-quality staff, volunteers, the Sheriff’s Department, the support of the Board of Supervisors and generous donors, as well as the dedicated members of the Board of Directors. “To know that our facilities and programs are a welcome component in the community and that law enforcement representatives are known as friends, mentors and role models serving to improve the lives of so many youth is a source of great pride and accomplishment that I, together with all the people involved, feel so good about.”