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Giving From the Heart:
The Story of Louise Ukleja

David Sanfillipo and Louise Ukleja

David Sanfillipo and Louise Ukleja.

As a young woman, Louise Ukleja was influenced by two very special adults, her mother and father. Thus began a life of giving as she watched her parents do so much to impact the lives of others.

Ukleja’s life began in Pennsylvania. Her father was a hard working Armenian who had a genuine interest in others. He was described as a “relational genius.” Without a college education, he founded General Nutrition Centers in 1935 and remained its chief executive until his death. Though he was quite industrious by nature, Ukleja fondly recalls her father saying, “I’ve never worked a day in my life because it’s not work if you enjoy what you’re doing.”

Ukleja’s mother was also a source of inspiration. For years, her mother served as a teacher at the Industrial Home for Crippled Children, a residential facility in Pittsburgh for children with polio. This heartfelt and dedicated work was remembered and honored at her mother’s 90th birthday celebration. Although her parents have both passed away, Ukleja carries on their legacy of giving to others.

When it comes to giving from the heart and making a difference to someone who faces life with a learning disability, Ukleja earns another vote of confidence.

When asked about her life in the Long Beach area, Ukleja recalls, “It was New Year’s Eve 1980, when my husband Mick and I moved to southern California…I remember that Michelle was 1 year old.” Twenty some years later, Ukleja continues to be a giving mother, wife and community philanthropist. She is presently the executive director of Opportunity Schools, a Southern California organization she founded in 1990 because of a personal need to provide a caring educational environment for Michelle, who had been diagnosed with learning challenges. The organizational mission of Opportunity Schools ( is to provide training and consulting services to private schools that desire to meet the educational needs of students with learning challenges. David Sanfilippo, director of Disabled Student Services at CSULB and an Opportunity Schools board member, says, “Louise was the best choice for this position…it was a unanimous and confident vote from the board.”

When it comes to giving from the heart and making a difference to someone who faces life with a learning disability, Ukleja earns another vote of confidence. In March, Ukleja announced a generous contribution to Disabled Student Services.* Her pledge on behalf of the Ukleja family was given to honor Michelle, a recent CSULB graduate who Sanfilippo describes as one of the most determined and inspirational students with learning challenges his department has ever served. Like her parents, Michelle plans to work to impact the lives of others. Through Michelle, the “giving from the heart” legacy lives on.

*The Ukleja family’s commitment to improving the lives of students with disabilities adds to their significant support to the university's Athletics Department and the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership in the College of Business.