In 1996 a batch of disadvantaged teenagers took off from Los Angeles for Manchester and Glasgow, in hopes of broadening their horizons. Unlikely as it may sound, their journey might never have happened had not Dennis Storer, three months earlier, been among the millions watching the Los Angeles riots on television. Storer’s life had long been centered on turning bad into good. That’s why, as he witnessed multiracial youngsters join their elders in smashing windows and looting stores, he felt compelled to help get these kids off the streets and raise their sights. This would also benefit their overseas counterparts, who’d be chosen to visit the United States.
It had always been Storer’s strong impulse, whether here or in his native England, to enable at-risk adolescents to excel. Until now, his means had been sports and his main venue UCLA, where he’d served for years as its widely admired head coach of soccer and rugby. All the while, though, he saw himself primarily as an educator. Now he challenged himself, first to identify L.A. kids who’d shown promise of rising above their dismal circumstances, and, second, to give them a chance of doing so. Thus was born the Spirit of Youth Foundation, which he envisioned introducing these inner-city youngsters to new cultures, new worlds.
Since 1996, L.A. enrollees have visited their English counterparts in cities ranging from Glasgow to Birmingham -- by no coincidence, Storer’s own hometown.These travels have created ripple effects of new-found awareness and understanding on both sides of the “Pond.”
It was only fitting, therefore, that in 2005 the Queen honored Storer by dubbing him a member of the Order of the British Empire, which permitted affixing O.B.E. to his surname. Although Storer died in 2007, his achievements remain and continue to expand. When next year’s Spirit of Youth travelers take off from L.A., Dennis Storer, if only in spirit, will surely wish them well, exhorting them to raise your sights and claim higher horizons.
Peter Bunzel A UCLA video tribute to Dennis can be accessedhere.
An archive of the Celebrate Dennis website containing written tributes can be accessed here.