About Town: Social Action - Donna Langley

Issue 55 - About Town: Donna Langley and Vanessa Earls
Mark Leibowitz

Donna Langley with Vanessa Earls.

The Universal Co-Chairman’s Charity: Chrysalis

On a bright Thursday morning at 5th and Main in downtown Los Angeles, Universal Pictures co-chairman Donna Langley is talking about why the nonprofit grabs her as a change-the-world project. “They’re trying to attack the problems you see around here in a different way,” she says. This being Skid Row, the problems are graphically apparent. “It’s like the name: They create a metamorphosis in people.”

The organization, boasting such board members as Brett Ratner and 20th Century Fox TV president Dana Walden, helps the poor and homeless at three L.A.-area centers become self-sufficient by getting them jobs. No food-giving, no shelter-providing — just finding a way for the needy to get and retain employment. “Seventy percent of the people we see have been in prison,” Chrysalis executive director Mark Loranger says. “If you don’t find them jobs, they’re going to do something stupid and get sent back.”

Langley said she first heard about Chrysalis at its annual Butterfly Ball fundraiser in 2004 at Ron Burkle’s Greenacres estate, which, when standing at 5th and Main, seems like a distant universe. She says what pulled her in was how direct the program is: “How to fill in a résumé, get bus tokens, what e-mail is, what you need to get an apartment — basically remove every obstacle to a person getting a job.”

She points to Vanessa Earls, whom she recently met, as an “absolutely typical” case. “She’s 19, homeless, has two children, is drug-free, was in the military and was not prepared when that came to an end,” Langley says. “What struck me about her story is that despite all that, she has the ambition to become a forensic criminal detective because her brother was murdered. That’s a resilience most people don’t possess.”

Langley, who joined the advisory board in 2008, makes calls to get Chrysalis clients employed and has been instrumental in raising more than $1.5 million through the organization’s annual ball.

The money is well spent: Chrysalis has placed more than 1,500 people in jobs this year and 35,000 since 1993.