How Nonprofit Closegap Aims to Create Mental Health ‘Guardian Angels’ in LA Schools

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Classroom using Closegap

Rachel Miller, founder and CEO of Closegap, has always been interested in helping kids who did not win the "birth lottery," as she calls it.

She is one of them.

Growing up, her mother had schizoaffective disorder, but did not take medication for it. Miller often stayed at strangers' houses or with family and friends because her mother had a hard time keeping a job. As a result, she often found herself exposed to others who were using drugs.

One night when she was 9, Miller thought she would have to sleep on the streets, but she and her mother received a last-minute motel voucher after standing outside a welfare office for hours.

It was in education that Miller found refuge. She'd often bounce around to several different schools in a year, but often was surrounded by teachers she saw as "guardian angels" who cared about her and her situation.

The support propelled her to attend Los Angeles Pierce College and then USC's Marshall School of Business before getting a master's degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Amsterdam. Drawing on an entrepreneurial spirit, she started a donation platform where people could gift specific items to disadvantaged families. It ultimately failed but something else bloomed.

"I learned so much and actually realized that I don't want to try to eliminate the adversity that kids experience," she said. "I want to optimize the support that they get from the adults around them and teach them the coping skills they need."

Student using Closegap

She launched Closegap in 2019. The web-based app used by schools lets students check in daily with their emotional well-being by answering questions like: Are you feeling worried or are you feeling like you are worth less than others. The questions are tailored to different age groups and teachers and counselors get results for each student. It tells them whether a child hasn't had breakfast that morning or is experiencing suicidal ideations.

For years, Miller was reluctant to share her story. She had a difficult childhood, one that she often didn't feel comfortable talking about. But she came to understand that it was that pain where her passion for disadvantaged kids comes from.

About 2,100 schools across the U.S. use the Los Angeles-based nonprofit's app, as well as schools in 25 countries. Students have completed about 2.5 million "check-ins."

When COVID hit, the app went from reaching 10,000 students to 140,000 students in two months, Miller said. That number has now reached about 160,000 students.

It's no coincidence. The American Psychological Association'sStress in America 2020 study shows that 43% of Gen Z teens, aged 13 to 17, say the level of stress in their life has increased over the past year. And aUNICEF report on the mental health of children globally found that 1 in 7 adolescents is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder.

School districts across the country, and here in Los Angeles, are hiring school psychologists and psychiatric social workers to address the need.

Closegap targets schools because that's where Miller thought it would be most effective. "Not all families are created equal," she said. Community resources often fall short. She thought Closegap could help students make a connection with at least one adult.

"If we can optimize for that, if every kid had at least one trusted adult, our entire society would look different, that would literally change everything," she said. "That's why Closegap really focuses on that check in and getting them in contact with school counselors and teachers," Miller said.

The app has a free version that's more focused on the connection with an individual student as well as a recently launched paid premium product that provides aggregated data to school districts.

A teacher instructing a class on Closegap.

"The idea is to create a safe digital space, where they feel comfy sharing, so it's not just a survey," she said. "It's really this moment where you get to check in with your emotions, your somatic sensations, your energy level and then you get to share if you have any challenges."

There are then activities on the app that students can do if they choose, like deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and therapeutic shaking.

When it comes to student data privacy, Miller said it's something she takes seriously and part of the reason she founded the organization as a nonprofit.

So far, the only time Closegap will intervene is when a student reports ideas of self-harm or suicide. They will follow-up with the school to ensure an adult has been in contact with that student. She said all of the students who have reported self-harm or suicide on the app are receiving treatment.

Miller has relied on philanthropic donations to fund the app so far. She has several investors, rather than a single one -- much like a startup backed by venture capitalists would have.

The company is now working on integrating pieces into the app that orient children to the future, rather than living in the here and now. Students who experience trauma are often stuck in their present situation, in survival mode, she said.

"What I want to work on next is really making sure that all students, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in, have some concept of the future and can start to at least a little bit visualize what their lives might look like after whatever it is they're in," Miller said.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from LA’s EV Scene

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from LA’s EV Scene

I’ve been on vacation this past week, so of course there’s been a ton of news in the Southern California EV world that I missed. I’m not even supposed to be back online until Tuesday, when I’ll be covering SXSW in Austin, Texas. But so great was the deluge of news that I’ve holed up in a Starbucks off of I-70 to whip up this little recap for you. Here we go.


I covered Rivian’s Q4 earnings in last week’s newsletter. The results weren’t particularly pretty, with the company suggesting production guidance of just 50,000 units for 2023, which was below what many analysts had forecasted. But then, on Friday, Rivian employees told Bloomberg, that internally the company was saying it might be able to hit 62,000 units in the fiscal year. Shortly after that, however, Rivian announced that 50,000 vehicles was still the official target and that the larger figure had been taken out of context by employees. The company’s share price has fallen 24% since the earnings call.

But wait there’s more: Rivian had previously announced that it intended to lay off 6% of its workforce, and last week we got some more details about where those cuts will come from. The Palo Alto office is slated to lose 240 workers, and 204 look like they’ll be cut from the Irvine HQ, according to reporting from Carscoops.

But wait there’s even more: Rivian also announced today that it would recall 13,000 of its vehicles for issues related to an issue with the seatbelt that could prevent the passenger airbag from functioning as intended. This won’t be Rivian’s first recall, and it surely won’t be its last. Recalls are common and necessary in the automotive industry, but the news comes at an inopportune time for the EV maker.

Lastly, Rivian announced yesterday that it intends to raise $1.3 billion in cash to help it through the coming scale up phase. As I pointed out in the Q4 earnings article, the company’s current cash burn rate looked a bit too aggressive to bring Rivian into 2026, when the R2 platform is expected to launch and provide a pathway to profitability for the EV hopeful. An additional $1.3 billion helps to narrow that gap.


Some good news from Vinfast, actually. The company has delivered its first cars to US customers. Since its 999 SUVs arrived in the United States back in mid December 2022, the delivery process has been delayed by software issues with the vehicles. Last week, however, Vinfast announced that it had delivered 45 VF8s to customers. When the rest of the shipment will be ready for delivery is still unknown, but hey, it’s something. The news comes just a week after Vinfast cut its advertised lease price for the vehicle by a whopping 50%, which if you’ve been following’s coverage, brings its price much more in line with its value compared to competitors. Whether it’s enough to sway US consumers to take a risk on a new technology produced by a mostly unknown foreign brand, remains to be seen.


On March 1st, Mullen’s top financier, Terren Peizer, was charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Peizer and Mullen have a long history and Peizer has served as CEO of both Ontrak and Acuitas Holding Group. Back in April 2022, Hindenburg Research highlighted Peizer’s large stake in Mullen (29%), and his numerous ties to finance guys who’d found themselves in prison for various sorts of fraud. Now it seems the SEC is taking a look into Peizer himself. According to reporting by InvestorPlace, the agency has charged Peizer with selling $20 million in Ontrak stock while in possession of “material, nonpublic information (MNPI) concerning the company’s largest customer.” Whoops.

Meanwhile, Mullen announced today that it would showcase two new electric delivery vehicles at the NTEA Work Truck Show that’s ongoing this week. The press release contains images of the same class 1 cargo van that Mullen acquired when it purchased Electric Last Mile Solutions last fall, as well as a Class 3 low-cab forward delivery truck. How or where Mullen plans to make these vehicles at scale, remains unknown. But CEO David Michery said that both vehicles are coming to market later this year. Mullen would likely need to raise huge amounts of capital to bring manufacturing capacity online to deliver any meaningful volume of product, but the company does have multiple factory assets.

LA Venture: Toba Capital’s Patrick Mathieson on How VCs Can Better Support Founders

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
LA Venture: Toba Capital’s Patrick Mathieson on How VCs Can Better Support Founders
Patrick Mathieson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Toba Capital Partner Patrick Mathieson discusses his thoughts on investing in SMB platforms, gross revenue retention, and other things he looks for when investing.

Read moreShow less

With New Leadership, LA Has a Chance To Prioritize Bus Riders

Maylin Tu
Maylin Tu is a freelance writer who lives in L.A. She writes about scooters, bikes and micro-mobility. Find her hovering by the cheese at your next local tech mixer.
With New Leadership, LA Has a Chance To Prioritize Bus Riders
Christian Gutierrez

Last year, the city of Los Angeles approved a new bus shelter contract with Tranzito-Vector after a 20-year contract that shorted the city over 600 bus shelters and $70 million in advertising revenue. According to a 2012 audit by the city controller, the last contract failed because of a combination of NIMBYism and bureaucratic red tape.

Now, L.A. — the city that puts its cars and their drivers above all else— has an opportunity to prioritize bus riders, and by extension, promote racial and social equity. As the contract wends its way through city hall, delayed by bureaucracy once again, questions remain about whether the city can meet its goals.

Will L.A. bus riders finally get the bus stops (and shade) that they need?

Read moreShow less