Charlie Steinmetz ('77)

May 14, 2012

Charlie Steinmetz (’77) Changes the Lives of L.A. Inner-City Students

The Steinmetz Foundation supports experiential programs in K-12 Schools

Charlie Steinmetz spent much of his life learning - then running - the family business.

For the most part, that meant buying, selling, merging and creating a variety of companies in the aerospace metals and electronic distribution industries. Their company also invested in real estate. But the Steinmetz family anticipated structural changes in the aerospace industry and sold their company in 1999. They correctly picked the peak of the market. Then the family developed a new focus.

"My dad was always interested in the concept of social change through a foundation," Charlie Steinmetz says, so they put ten percent of the proceeds into an endowment to create the Steinmetz Foundation. Charlie's father was the original president, his mother vice president; Charlie set out to learn how foundations work and create a meaningful niche for the foundation.

Before joining his father in business, Charlie Steinmetz was a solider.

In 1971, Steinmetz ('77) held number three in the selective service lottery. So, he joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), allowing him to delayed entering the Army until finishing his education. The month after completing his MBA at UCLA, he became an Army platoon leader and was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky as a combat engineer officer. 

He recalls the Army experience as a good complement to business school. "I was 24 years old and had a hundred people working for me," he says. "That's really good experience and gave me a great skill set when I entered civilian life."

In 1979, Steinmetz was discharged and joined his father in the family business. Twenty years later, they sold it and formed their foundation.

One of the first things the family decided to do was endow a chair in Archaeology at UCLA. Both of Steinmetz' parents are UCLA alumni. Then, Charlie Steinmetz began to focus on literacy programs for inner city children. "Literacy is a critical thing for our society," he says. He visited six different literacy programs and became trained as a tutor in each one. "That taught me the best practices in tutor training and volunteer management," he says, "and gave us a framework for looking at literacy nonprofits."

Steinmetz says the foundation is required to give away at least five percent of its assets each year which, in the beginning, was difficult. But he quickly located a variety of deserving agencies and the foundation now typically exceeds the five percent target. Recently, the foundation has donated about $500,000 a year. "This is a time of great need for the non-profits we deal with," he says.

One of the early projects came about by chance. "I was driving home from a meeting with our accountant who had explained how much money we had to give away," Steinmetz recalls. "I was wondering how we were going to do this when I got a call from my high school English teacher who I stayed in contact with. He said, 'Charlie, there's a Catholic elementary school in Watts that needs textbooks. Why don't you come down and meet these guys?'"

The Steinmetz Foundation not only provided the textbooks, Charlie Steinmetz developed a number of other programs, has now served for twelve years on their school board and now serves on the Board of Catholic Education Foundation which helps supports scholarships for students attending inner city Catholic Schools.  "We have turned struggling bottom-tier schools into real powerhouses," he says. "Catholic schools are the best way for students to get out of a culture of poverty."

The foundation provides scholarships as well as funds to transport students on field trips. "You've got to take kids to museums and aquariums and the beach," says Steinmetz, who remembers when his mother took him to a King Tut exhibition that sparked a lasting interest in archaeology. "That's how they develop curiosity." The foundation also provides dictionaries for elementary students to take home. "We give away about $40,000 worth of dictionaries a year," he says. "(Many) inner-city kids don't have books or computers at home."

In addition, the foundation supports literacy centers, afterschool programs, libraries, dance programs and gardening programs. "We're really huge on experiential education," he says.

One of Steinmetz' favorite projects is a program that pays and trains local high school students to tutor younger kids. "Kids from the same area and backgrounds understand the difficulties of learning English better than many volunteers.  And our tutors become more skilled readers themselves. Students from the inner-city know what younger students need and what their problems are. It's stuff you and I would never pick up."

Steinmetz believes libraries have become an important issue in schools. There is not only a funding challenge, there is also the need to re-invent libraries as learning and research environments. "We're trying to figure out what media and other resources should be there," he says. "It's an interesting area that I don't have answers for."

Steinmetz says that the central aim of all foundation programs is to develop the curiosity of kids, many of whom are not encouraged to learn at home. "We can use curiosity to change behaviors," he says. "It can drive kids to read and ask questions."

Steinmetz is particularly gratified when a student in one of the foundation's programs succeeds in high school and goes on to college. The program has produced two Gates Millenium Scholars who are at Brown University, as well as many UCLA Bruins. "We have lots of kids that had real reading deficiencies and are now tremendous students," he says. "It's really fun to see these kids grow up and succeed on such a high level."

Charlie was named president of the Steinmetz Foundation in 2008 and it has become his passion. "I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity to give back," he says.

Contact Information

Media Relations,  (310) 206-7707, media.relations@anderson.ucla.edu

Media Relations