It has been just over one year since the City of Los Angeles put Safer at Home orders in place as the devastation of COVID-19 began to spread.
To commemorate this somber anniversary, we wanted to honor the Angelenos who have stepped up to care for each other and serve our region over the past year. We designated these selfless, inspiring individuals our LA2050 Safer At Home Heroes and asked the LA2050 community to provide nominations on our Instagram.
The nominees represent the best of all of us — from brave frontline medical staff to essential workers in all sectors, educators creating the best virtual classrooms possible, chefs providing meals to those in need, and families caring for at-risk loved ones. Through random selection, we awarded 10 nominees with $50 gift cards to Gifts for Good as a small token of our appreciation. Now, we're grateful to share the inspiring and moving submissions we received.
A huge thank you to all of the nominators and nominees!
Meet the LA2050 Safer At Home Heroes:
@ccolmery: I nominate @alinasato for her good and hard work at CHLA as an RN. Through every COVID spike and threat of illness she showed up and serves her patients with heart.
@alecia076: I nominate Patricia Dixon from @caaquatictherapy She has worked tirelessly to ensure residents with special health needs are able to access wellness services, food and care. Pat is an #la2050saferathomehero 😍
@nelson_pulga: @champagneebri proud of my niece for helping the homeless youth throughout this whole pandemic & helping them get resources they need.
@tafaraibayne: @czarjonesiii for providing thousands and thousands of meals to residents of Watts over the last 12 Months (with his team at @eastsideriders) and still finding time to host youth-focused community bike rides. Dude is my hero for reals.
@luvabull_23: I would like to nominate my Husband @damn_its_rod as he is an essential worker. He is a mechanic at the airport so he always had to report to work last year and currently. He works very hard even at home as he helps people with their cars, sometimes not even charging for his labor. He is truly a selfless person and I would love this for him as I'm a stay-at-home Mom so I can't always provide #LA2050SaferAtHomeHero.
@farrahwayy: I nominate @heleoleyva for hosting community cookouts throughout the pandemic to feed those in need.
@lvasquez90032: I would like to nominate @jacobtoups as a #la2050saferathomehero he took the last year to bring LGBTQ youth together and create a BRAVE space for them. He has built an organization @rainbow_labs that brings those youth voices to a larger platform. Across the nation there are only 5 LGBTQ mentoring programs for every 5000 programs. There's a need and it's been incredible to witness Jacob's commitment to support and elevate all of their voices!
@jumamock5: I nominate @jerimtz who was part of the 1st team in our department to work with people who were recovering from severe covid. He has dedicated all of his time over the past year to provide physical therapy services to almost 150 people from the LA area. He is my hero and it is an honor to work with him.
@emwildflower: I nominate @punsandproses for working tirelessly to bring arts education virtually to youth in the South Bay.
@emwidlflower: I nominate @sarah.tapiapruett for fighting for her students while safely loving her community and friends.
And, meet the rest of the inspiring nominations:
@arianadelawari: @wyllalourdes I nominate Wylla my late mom's nurse at Kaiser. She was so attentive and helpful throughout the time of losing our mom. It was so confusing being isolated away from her while she was in the hospital and it means so much to have a great nurse who was helping us navigate communication while being on the frontlines herself and caring for her own family ❤️
@lorenzo_e_hernandez has been leading his team to distribute support the families affected by COVID. Meeting with families in-person to distribute more than $2.2 million in grocery cards, rental relief and utilities relief Lorenzo and his team have eased the suffering of the pandemic.
@swellmel2014: I nominate @NVCSinc - On March 19, 2020 they set up a drive-thru food pantry which has served over 33,000 families from 118 zip codes throughout Los Angeles. Tomorrow marks the 100th drive-thru pantry. Sad that we have food insecure families but grateful for outreach by this remarkable non-profit!
@raquelitab1: @atziricamarema has been on disaster worker assignment from @empowerla for over 10 months serving our unhoused neighbors of LA. She has ascended into a supervisor role leading several project roomkey locations which was only possible because of her compassion, discipline, and strong work ethic. Thank you for the opportunity to recognize Atziri for her service.
@simon2587 Last year, Simon decided to continue his passion for nursing and caretaking. I nominate Simon because he's a caregiver to his grandparents, a student, a murse, and event planner. From getting groceries and translating mail/tv for his grandparents to bring a full-time nurse at a hospital and a student on top of it he's helped make pandemic drive-thru birthdays for people of all ages. Not only is Simon a front-line worker, he's an extraordinary friend and grandson, and though there were moments where he struggled, he was able to triumph because he knew what it meant for his loved ones. I'm so proud of you Simon! ❤️
@chancekawar: I nominate Marilú Guevara, executive director of @LWVlosangeles. I'm proud to have witnessed her leadership engaging & educating local voters during an election season like no other we've seen before. With limited resources during the ongoing pandemic, she has continued to be a powerful voice defending our democracy and an informed political discourse.
@mostlyfinnrarelytara: @allenlnarcisse and Casey Williams @lyft for their great work supporting voting and vaccine access.
@shaunanep: I nominate @annasilverman for implementing such smart Covid safe strategies for her family during such a difficult year ❤️
@tobermancenter: @big_c2c has been a guiding light this year. He has created processes so people will receive direct financial aid quickly and with minimal contact. He ensures that anyone going hungry receives home-delivered food from the food pantry. Carlos gives hope and leadership to all he meets.
@katt.montoya: I nominate @carmene.montoya for working two jobs and one of them being an essential grocery store worker! Thank you for working and helping us get the essentials we needed during a pandemic.
@ericjsal: I nominate @champagneebri for not taking a day off AND working so hard through this pandemic.
@fileleyva4030: I nominate @communitycookouts The Leyva brothers have distributed over 5,000 meals to people in need in the East Hollywood area.
@danigonzalezg: I also nominate @communitycookouts !! They have been sharing incredible street food meals to neighbors in need in EaHo every Tuesday! 5000+ meals so far.
@emwidlflower: I nominate @den__nice for graduating in a pandemic and still being the best 6th-grade teacher ever.
@zerowastemicaela: @ecourbangardens I nominate Liz Christy, program manager at Eco Urban Gardens, a school garden nonprofit that serves the El Monte community! EUG cultivates green spaces and grows healthy organic food. Liz has been working really hard to keep the gardens and virtual education programs running during the pandemic!
@punsandproses: I nominate @emwildflower for her constant commitment to bettering the lives of the children she serves as an Urban Theatre Program director. She works ceaselessly to enrich and provide for the “neighborhood kids" that fill every centimeter of her gigantic heart. She's an inspiration ♥️
@phillycheesecake: I nominate @heleoleyva of @quesadillastepexco and @communitycookouts for bringing the community of East Hollywood free hot meals EVERY WEEK despite a pandemic that put him and his crew out of work.
@mostlyfinnrarelytara: @ilovemikeandlily for delivering meals with @projectangelfood and volunteering with @makegoodinc.
@niduh: I nominate @irfan_ahmed for being a doctor on the frontline during this pandemic!
@emwildflower: I nominate @isaiah.murtaugh for fighting to cover voting rights and the 2020 election in the middle of a pandemic.
@lalaleann: I nominate @sarah.tapiapruett for being an incredible educator and mama to baby Noemí! All at the same time 🥰
@mostlyfinnrarelytara: @jenniferbblackburn and the team @larchmontschool for raising grocery money for our school's families.
@tobermancenter: @leslieeeanaya has brought a smile to many people's faces this year with her caring and support. She has helped seniors sign up for COVID vaccinations, helped people get free tax preparation, grocery cards and rent. Leslie brightens up the day as she supports the distribution of over 200 meals daily!
@smgrams: I nominate @lizschwandt for going above and beyond providing safe and nurturing childcare at @sijccece AND in her free time creating a volunteer organization (Get Out The Shot LA) to help folks with finding vaccine appointments. Truly making our city safer and more equitable during this crisis! 🙌 Thank you, Liz!
I nominate Aaron Valencia of @lost_angels_childrens_project ...when the pandemic hit and families had to stay at home, Aaron immediately put resources together to support food-insecure families. He set up a meal delivery service in the City of Lancaster that kept many people from going hungry. He is an #la2050saferathomehero 😎
@alturiconsulting: Nominating @mellemusic for doing all she possibly can since the very start to ensure as many Angelenos in need as possible have food. She has been an inspiration in her nonstop efforts to feed those in need and by collaborating with others to ensure that those in need have access to food. ❤️
@katt.montoya: I nominate @ms._bee_ for never once stopping to work as a medical assistant and helping patients get the care they need. Thank you for caring for the whole family as well!
@mostlyfinnrarelytara: @alexmarx.la for sharing her food when we couldn't get the groceries we needed.
@geemd: @quesadillastepexco are street vendors turned community chefs. They've served hot, delicious and nutritious FREE meals to thousands of community members in East Hollywood at their weekly cookouts 🧡
@goretti.25: I nominate @quesadillastepexco @communitycookouts for feeding those in need even as the Leyva brothers were struggling themselves during the pandemic. They hosted community cookouts where free food was given no questions asked. 👏👏
@rcheratyou: I also nominate @quesadillastepexco @communitycookouts for supplying meals for those in need in East Hollywood. The kindness and compassion they have for our community is such an inspiration. We need more people like the Leyva brothers! 🔥🙌❤️
@emwildflower: I nominate @sayyescenter.picounion for caring for the kids in our city who are most vulnerable.
@_thehyepriestess_: I nominate the team at @smileandwonder for creating a safe space for kids to learn and play. Eternally grateful to Nicole and Ana! 👏❤️
@stellamarine: I nominate @stoicspam who has been advocating for and supporting tenants in crisis during this whole pandemic both in her own community and across LA!
@emwildflower: I nominate @tapiapruett for graduating during a pandemic and jumping right into teaching.
@d1.zayzay: I nominate my Public health professor and mentor @thatprettytr3. She has been volunteering at various Covid-19 testing sites while creating content videos for her community about Covid-19. She is also continuing to provide STEM classes to underserved youth in Los Angeles county. She has been on the front lines since the pandemic began and has been servicing the people of Los Angeles. She has not missed one step in any role assigned to her. She is more than deserving.
@_marilynthompson_: I nominate @twinspire_ a non-profit organization serving marginalized and foster youth virtually by equipping them with financial literacy and life skills to pursue educational and career opportunities in the midst of the pandemic. They are committed to equipping the next generation of youth with the tools required to be mindful leaders and phenomenal students. ✊🏽💕
@stephgwieland: I nominate @twinspire_. Founded by twin brothers Demontae and Demontray, Twinspire is a local nonprofit organization dedicated to serving foster youth and marginalized youth throughout the city to provide them with educational support, financial literacy, and life skills. Demontae and Demontray have been working tirelessly through this pandemic to ensure their participants have the tools they need to not only survive, but to thrive.
We need your help to recognize and reward the heroes who have stepped up to serve their fellow Angelenos during COVID-19.
On March 19, 2020, at 11:59 pm, the City of LA's Safer at Home orders began. The nearly one year since has brought immense suffering and tragedy. But, life during the pandemic has also brought countless examples of hope and help, of sacrifice and selflessness, and of communities caring for one another.
From brave frontline medical workers to essential grocery store staff, families coping together with online school, older adults making phone calls to check-in on neighbors, and college students volunteering at testing sites, Angelenos have stepped up to care for each other and for our communities. We're designating these incredible individuals our LA2050 Safer At Home Heroes.
As a small gesture of respect and gratitude to all the heroes among us, LA2050 is giving away 10 $50 gift cards to Gifts for Good, an online marketplace to purchase meaningful products from socially-conscious companies.
To join in: Nominate an #LA2050SaferatHomeHero by tagging someone in the comments on our @LA2050 Instagram post and briefly explaining why this person is deserving. You can nominate as many people as you want (one comment per nomination, please!).
Nominations will close on Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 3 pm, so make sure to comment before then. We'll randomly select 10 winners after the drawing closes and post the results on Friday, March 19, 2021. Nominations will be accepted on the honor system (we're trusting that you're providing us with true information). We reserve the right to remove inappropriate or unkind comments from the drawing.
Most importantly, a huge THANK YOU to everyone out there who has been a hero in our communities during this time.
To celebrate Women's History Month 2021, we've compiled a map of 21 spots where bold, visionary Angelenas past and present made their impact. Check it out!
Over the past six months, our 2020 My LA2050 grantees have been hard at work implementing their winning ideas from last year's grants challenge. Now, we're checking in on the progress of our first-place and second-place winners!
Click on the links below to read each individual grantee update:
If your organization has a bright idea like our 2020 winners, then we want to know! Submit a proposal to the 2021 My LA2050 Grants Challenge, and this time next year, we could be sharing your updates.
Impact of COVID-19:
1 of 3 Los Angeles residents have been infected with COVID-19, according to the Los Angeles Department of Health Services. To make matters worse, the infection rate for residents in Clínica Romero's service area is alarmingly higher than the Los Angeles County rate. Scientific modeling highlights that the region will continue to be a coronavirus hotspot, straining the local healthcare system.
The CDC lists the following key factors in the high transmission of COVID-19: resistance to face coverings, fatigue, colder weather, poverty, people living in close quarters. Clinica Romero's Alvarado & Marengo clinics are both located within Los Angeles Planning Area 4 (SPA 4)—one of the most densely populated and impoverished areas of the city. Some community members in the service area have reported waiting hours to be seen by a healthcare worker and then waiting again for an available hospital bed. Ambulances in our service area no longer transport people with little chance of survival. ICU capacity is nearly at its limit. COVID-19 has created dire circumstances in the service area, especially gripping the vulnerable at-risk populations.
Clínica Romero serves over 10,000 unduplicated patients annually. Our patients are predominantly low-income, 100% live at or below the Federal Poverty Level. Roughly 7% of our patients experience homelessness and over 40% of patients do not qualify for health insurance due to their immigration status (the highest percentage of undocumented clients of any clinic in Los Angeles). 96% of our patients are Latinos. According to the CDC, disproportionate numbers of Latino Americans are dying from COVID-19. Twenty-five percent of the deaths from coronavirus have been Latinos, in spite of the fact that Latinos only make up 18% of the population. Many Latinos are contracting COVID-19, because they are the essential workers, leaving their houses every single day to work in service industries. The other reason is health care coverage and pre-existing conditions. There are still too many Latinos who don't have health insurance coverage and that means they don't have access to primary care services that provide preventive services. This often results in undiagnosed or uncontrolled chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, which puts individuals at higher risk of suffering dire consequences if they contract COVID-19. The impact of the pandemic on the Latino population has been catastrophic.
In response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Clínica Romero provided some remarkable services to the community in 2020:
• Over 24,000 telehealth/teledentistry visits delivered to Clínica Romero patients.
• Roughly 14,000 individuals and families received outreach and education information workshops and materials on topics such as COVID-19 prevention and awareness.
• 2,400 hot meals were distributed to those experiencing homelessness and facing food insecurity.
• Over 900 food vouchers and cash aid assistance distributed to low-income immigrant families who were economically affected by COVID-19.
• 1,300 individuals experiencing homelessness and street vendors received educational materials and PPE including masks, face shields, and hand sanitizers.
• Both Clínica Romero locations are fully staffed and administered same day onsite COVID-19 testing
Implementation of Telehealth:
Clínica Romero initiated primary care telehealth services in March 2020, in direct response to COVID-19, targeting both existing and new patients. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have experienced an increase in utilization of our telehealth services by patients and saw continued growth throughout the year. Between April 2020 to December 2020, Clínica Romero delivered over 24,000 telehealth visits. Presently, Clínica Romero delivers over 3,000 telehealth visits per month and increased demand for telehealth services continues to rise.
The vast majority of Clínica Romero telehealth services are delivered via phone calls given the digital divide experienced by our patient population. Many of our patients face compounded barriers and challenges that limit their options to only phone calls. The two leading obstacles are securing a phone/connection device followed by a lack of digital literacy. Clínica Romero Promotoras (Community Health Workers) have been mobilized to provide outreach and education to patients and community members. Their work focuses on informing patients about the availability of telehealth services, instructions for how to make an appointment, and outlining simple steps that will allow patients to connect to their doctors.
Thanks to funds provided by LA2050, Clínica Romero has started offering video telehealth services to new and existing patients. This program is available to patients who have moderate to high digital literacy skills (in order to download necessary applications such as Health Zoom), have an internet connection, and a smart device that allows them to access services. Fewer patients have taken advantage of this expanded option but we are working diligently to improve access to video telehealth services for our patients.
“My name is Natalia Lozada and I have been a Clínica Romero patient for 5 years.
The pandemic has taken a lot from me, including the ability for me to visit Clínica Romero and see my doctor in person. I just learned how to use technology on my cell phone so when I was told that I could see my doctor for a digital health visit, I thought it would be too difficult for me. But Clínica Romero offered me so much support. The promotoras, nurses, and doctors were very patient with me and guided me on logging into my visit. I learned how to use the MyChart application and now I can schedule my appointments and have a video call with my doctor. I really liked the video service because I can see my doctor and it's very much like being able to see her in person. I truly appreciate this new way of communicating and staying in touch with my doctor so I can stay healthy.
I appreciate Clínica Romero so much for providing this service and making me feel special. I invite other community members to try telehealth! I am proof that with support, we can connect ourselves to our doctors."
What's next for Clínica Romero:
Clínica Romero is committed to providing the highest quality care to its patients despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of February 2021, Clínica Romero is now a vaccination site in Los Angeles and have begun the administration of the vaccine to our patients at two clinic sites:
Marengo Clinic located at 2032 Marengo St. Los Angeles, CA 90033
Alvarado Clinic located at 123 S. Alvarado St. Los Angeles, CA 90057
We are also in the development stage of becoming a Monoclonal Antibody (mAb) Infusion Center that will provide COVID-19 treatment option to some of the most vulnerable individuals in Los Angeles. Early evidence suggests that mAb treatment can reduce the amount of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a person's body.
The past year has been challenging and exhausting for everyone, including us. But in the spirit of Msr. Oscar A. Romero, we will continue to fight against health access injustice and provide high quality care to our patients. We are thankful for partners like LA2050, who have invested in Clínica Romero during one of the most critical times in our organization's 38-year history. This grant has allowed us to advance the care that we provide during COVID-19 and make Los Angeles a healthier, more equitable place to LIVE!
Visit www.clinicaromero.com to learn more about our services or follow us on Instagram (@clinica_romero) and Twitter (@ClinicaRomero) to keep up with our work in Los Angeles.
Project SOAR is a college access program focused on supporting the college and career goals of residents in public housing. Currently, the program is operating at five public housing sites in downtown, East LA and South LA. SOAR serves any resident regardless of age, education level, or citizenship status. In addition to working with students in 9-12th grade, SOAR provides one-on-one advising for returning adult learners, community college and transfers students, and residents interested in vocational training or certificate programs.
Since SoCal CAN was awarded the LA2050 grant in July 2020, Project SOAR has used a portion of the funds to create a special, paid position for SOAR students and parents. At the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, the SOAR team designed the SOAR Ambassador Program with the goal of hiring six students and six parents. These student and parent ambassadors would support Project SOAR through promotion, recruitment, and social media efforts at Nickerson Gardens, William Mead, Ramona Gardens, Gonzaque Village and Avalon Gardens. After a successful application and interview process in October 2020, Project SOAR welcomed twelve Ambassadors to the program and hosted two separate virtual Ambassador Orientations for both parent and student participants.
SOAR Education Program Specialists, Maria Perez, Marvin Ramirez, and Stephanie Guzman leading Ambassador Virtual Orientations, October 2020. Parents Ambassadors (top), Student Ambassadors (bottom).
Project SOAR Ambassadors provide critical insight into the climate and needs of the communities the program serves. They've helped staff identify new strategies and ideas for connecting with residents at each site. All six student ambassadors have been SOAR participants for multiple years. Five of them are currently attending local colleges that SOAR helped them apply to and enroll in. The student and parent ambassadors have also helped the SOAR team refine and adapt the program by providing meaningful feedback on their own experiences and sharing what additional resources or supports are needed to better serve future students and families. If you're interested in experiencing the Ambassadors in action, follow us on Instagram (@projectsoarla). During February 2021, the Ambassadors are “taking over" the IG posts and stories to share their personal experiences with college and Project SOAR.
SOAR Student Ambassadors: Brisa Bernal, Thuy Tran, and Jocelyn Benavides (left to right).
COVID-19 & Technology Support
As COVID-19 continued to provide increasingly insurmountable challenges to accessing technology for remote learning, Project SOAR worked steadfastly at identifying partnerships and opportunities to help SOAR students stay connected and enrolled in school. This past November, we were delighted to be identified as one of HACLA's community partners successfully serving residents on the ground and were able to work in collaboration with HACLA to provide refurbished laptops to students in need. Through a grant awarded to HACLA, Project SOAR was able to identify and distribute refurbished laptops to 100 SOAR students across our five main housing sites.
Many households reported sharing one laptop between multiple members in the household, significantly reducing each student's ability to access courses and complete school-related tasks. The laptop distribution was a highlight of the fall semester, bringing a moment of relief and encouragement to a hundred students and families facing an unimaginably difficult year.
A stack of refurbished laptops ready for distribution at Nickerson Gardens computer lab.
In addition to remote learning challenges, many SOAR families faced cuts in employment and income due to COVID-19. While SOAR offers resume support and assistance with applying to vocational and technical programs for all residents, many certificate or training programs have additional tool/supply costs not covered by financial aid. Thankfully, through a partnership with the SOLA I CAN Foundation, Project SOAR was able to provide an amazing $5,000 scholarship opportunity to residents impacted by Covid-19 and in search of educational opportunities to advance their career and employment options.
Below: SOAR/SOLA I CAN Scholarship program flyer made possible by a generous donation from Oprah Winfrey.
Both parent and student ambassadors assisted the SOAR team in promoting the scholarship and referring residents to the scholarship who they knew had lost work due to Covid-19. Through the partnership with SOLA I CAN, SOAR was able to secure 10 scholarship spots specifically reserved for SOAR participants. In addition to financial award, the scholarship also provides intensive case-management support to and through the program, career coaching, and employment assistance. Applications are still being reviewed, but we look forward to hearing which SOAR participants receive the award and celebrating their success.
Challenges and Lessons
As Project SOAR continues to have decreased access to residents and in-person programming, we are faced with increased challenges in recruitment and outreach.
While the SOAR team has been able to continue to support the students and families already connected with SOAR, we are deeply concerned about the number of residents who are in need of support, but whom we are unable to reach through the usual community events, meetings, and social gatherings no longer happening on site.
One thing we have learned from the past six months is the value of adaptability, especially when it comes to the programs and services SOAR provides. As a college access program, we remain committed to increasing the number of residents attending and graduating college, but we also realize the numerous additional factors that impact any person's ability to focus on educational goals and attainment. In the past months, we have only just begun to adapt our programs and services to meet the immediate and basic needs of students and families and will continue to seek out strong partnerships with organizations who can help provide holistic support to our residents.
In 2015, Natasha arrived at Union Station Homeless Services looking for a pathway to recovery and some assistance to get back on her feet. She quickly found much needed shelter and services at our Adult Center bridge housing program. Before too long, Natasha was well on her way to recovery and a place she could call home.
Over time, Natasha formed a close friendship with Karen, a community volunteer who worked in the Adult Center kitchen. Natasha credits this relationship with providing her guidance and support as she moved into her own apartment, settled into her new community, and grew into the person she is today. Natasha's relationship with Karen serves as ongoing inspiration for Union Station's Community Allies Program, a LA2050 Challenge grantee in the CONNECT category. To learn more about what our program is achieving in our community – and to hear more about Natasha's experience with her ally, Karen - we invite you to view this new video available on our YouTube channel and this article recently published in Pasadena Weekly.
“It's a wonderful friendship to have, because I grew up without a family. My siblings were separated from me at a really young age. So, to have that commitment with someone else, to be able to share your thoughts and dream, it makes me a better person to know that I am loved and cared for and guided every step of the way." – Natasha Head
The mission of the Community Allies Program is to support and empower individuals and families to combat isolation while achieving self-sufficiency, housing stability, and overall wellness by fostering one-on-one relationships, developing social networks, and building community. In this way, Community Allies is transforming the traditional one-on-one mentor relationship. This year, despite the unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Allies program is continuing to change lives. In recent months participants have reported that their allies and additional telephone pals have become an important lifeline as isolation, anxiety and depression rates have increased across all sectors of the population.
Now more than ever before, it is the human connection that goes beyond service provision that truly sets Community Allies apart.
“(We have) case managers helping recently housed clients but there's a whole other piece that case managers can't always provide. We established Community Allies to provide a sense of ongoing belonging and friendship in a new community. Pairing a client with a friendly face in the community really helps clients create a wonderful transition into housing." – Dana Bean, Union Station Homeless Services
The essence of Union Station's Community Allies Program is human connection, and this has presented a unique challenge during the current pandemic. The health and safety of our community is our number one priority, and we have had to make significant adjustments to how we provide services over the past 10 months as we have had to forego all in-person group activities and one-on-one visits. Nonetheless, during this time, our volunteer community allies have been working hard making connections with program participants while also following CDC guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy.
We are pleased to report that our Community Allies Program is continuing to match volunteer allies with newly housed individuals and families to provide an additional layer of support, mentorship and community integration assistance. Many of these relationships are new and have been born of the increased need during the pandemic and others are long-standing over the past two to three years.
In recent months, program staff have implemented creative online group activities (including a book club and writing group) and supported allies as they meet with program participants online through zoom calls and phone calls to maintain social distancing. Some allies and participants have also chosen to meet at a park or other public outdoor location following social distancing guidelines. In spite of recent challenges in reaching out in person to potential new volunteer allies and new participants, today we have 45 active program participants and 35 active community volunteers, with 25 current one-on-one matches between a community ally and a program participant. We have also celebrated the successes of many program participants, from getting the keys to a new apartment to new jobs… all from a safe distance.
If you or someone you know would like to learn more about becoming a Community Ally, please visit https://unionstationhs.org/help/volunteer/volunteer-mentor-program/.
Thank you to everyone in the LA2050 community who supported Ready to Succeed (RTS) in securing this grant, which has been a source of stability for the many students relying on our support during the pandemic. As students prepare to launch their careers during this difficult economic period, we are not only coaching them to develop competitive skills and competencies – we are also physically connecting them to a community of mentors and professionals who can open doors and serve as advocates for them now and throughout their lives.
Summary of Activities & Progress
With this grant, we aimed to test and develop a sustainable, collaborative service model to integrate complementary organizational expertises, with the goal of multiplying each partner's impact and guaranteeing the holistic services that young adults need and deserve. Recognizing that social and emotional support are as important as career development in helping our students thrive, we planned to create a shared service model with Stepping Forward LA (SFLA), which provides mentoring and life skill development to current and former foster youth.
During the pandemic, as we increased communication with peer organizations to share resources and ideas, we identified a third partner, Los Angeles Room & Board (LARNB). The organization operates “Opportunity House," a 50-bed supportive housing community near UCLA for former foster and homeless youth in community college. LARNB proved an ideal third partner for this project: Through Opportunity House's residential structure, we are able to test our collaborative model in an environment where we can maintain consistent access to youth, easily observe and collect data, and address challenges in real time.
Opportunity House interns
In addition to each partner's core programming, over the last several months, we have collectively devoted intensive, shared services to a dedicated cohort of 10 students at Opportunity House. Weaving together a holistic combination of support, LARNB provides safe housing and healthy meals, academic support, and connection to resources; RTS provides career development; and SFLA provides life skill development workshops and group mentoring activities.
In alignment with RTS' career development mission, our collaborative model places work experience and learning at the center. We launched a paid internship program, hiring 10 exceptional Opportunity House residents. Under the guidance of SFLA, interns are developing and rolling out a mobile app designed to build skills and resiliency among youth in foster care through peer learning. In addition to providing youth with valuable resources and mentorship, the app will be a mechanism for our collaborative partners to integrate services on a broader scale. To complement this hands-on experience, RTS engages interns in individualized career exploration and guidance, bringing theory and practice together to make the career learning experience more effective. Using what we learn with this cohort, we plan to sustain the internship as a standing feature among our collaborative, serving multiple cohorts over time.
In addition to collaborative efforts, this grant also helped RTS build our capacity to meet growing demand for our Career Accelerator program as more students faced hardship and uncertainty during the pandemic. With LA2050 support, we quickly adapted our core curricula and successfully moved all programming online. We also significantly increased campus outreach, doubling our number of partnerships. As a result of our online infrastructure and partnership expansion, we received a record number of 79 applications for our 2020 Fall cohort (4X the previous year) and accepted 44 new Scholars, our largest-ever cohort.
Challenges & How We've Responded
As our partnership unfolded, we recognized that many students require additional academic and life skill support before they are ready for the more robust career programming we provide to our Career Accelerator Scholars who attend four-year colleges and are further along on their career journeys. Fortunately, our collaborative model allows these students to receive the support they need, when they need it, from our partners who specialize in these service areas. We also pivoted our initial approach to focus less on career development and more on career and self-exploration. By meeting students where they are, we are building their sense of agency through the self-discovery process. Eventually, we expect that more residents will be good candidates for our long-term programming, particularly after participating in the internship program.
Receiving first paycheck ever for work as Stepping Forward LA/Ready To Succeed/Opportunity House internship.
▪ Virtual, collaborative programming: With the interns' forthcoming mobile app (launching March 2021), we will soon have the infrastructure to connect a much larger group of youth, program alumni, mentors, and professionals across each organization's networks, with the potential to serve an unlimited number of youth.
▪ Shared network integration: We continue to develop mechanisms to efficiently connect students to social and emotional support to combat isolation. Nine RTS alumni are helping us launch an official Alumni Collective, a network of our graduates who will plan social and networking events and serve as mentors and professional advocates for youth. Through this network and through connection opportunities provided by the new app, our alumni will be able to serve as positive examples to current foster youth in SFLA's community as well as to Opportunity House residents.
▪ Data evaluation: Through surveys, weekly check-ins, and information collected on our virtual career development platform, we are tracking key metrics: career exploration workshop completion, college persistence, internship/work experience, and social and emotional wellbeing. We are also working with partners to develop metrics for measuring the success of our collaboration itself so we can share lessons learned with peers and funders in our industry.
We are eager to share additional updates and data at the conclusion of the grant period. For more information on our work, please visit www.readytosucceedla.org or contact Romi Lassally at [email protected]
Crop Swap LA is moving forward with its first front yard microfarm. It has not been easy maintaining safety measures at all points during the COVID crisis, but we are even more resolved for our mission because of it. Thank you for your continued support.
Located at 4603 Angeles Vista Boulevard in View Park, we have our materials prepared, vendors selected, and the month-long process to tarp and sunlight deprive the top layer has begun. Drive by sometime to see it (being respectful to the owners, of course).
There were a multitude of businesses and services needed to facilitate this project. To date, we have contracted:
Most notably, the farm design is appropriately innovative for our arid environment, allowing us to capture and recycle rainwater hundreds of times to grow regenerative organic food. We've received our materials, and we're partnering with Enviroscape LA to install it by March 2021.
Our features include:
Our Angeles Vista site plan
The costs for the project have increased as time has gone and as design needs have changed. We are confident we can launch a series of these gardens, begin a legitimate movement in the process, and adjust perspectives. It may be one garden that does that, or it may be more than one, as we try to be efficient with precious resources and donations we've gotten for the project.
The Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) envisions an accessible park system for all residents and is committed to equity by specifically focusing its investments to close current disparities in park access and park program participation. These disparities have been found to disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color. A Mobile Recreation Program is one answer to addressing these inequities and helping to make LA the best place to PLAY by bringing themed vans to LAUSD schools not within a 10-minute walk of a park. RAP's goal was to bring a park environment to communities that do not have easy access to parks.
The objective is to mobilize and make accessible various physical activities that will allow youth to participate in the communities that are underserved. Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and LAUSD school closures, RAP's themed vans will visit LA City pocket/neighborhood parks and our 60 Alternative Learning Centers that do not provide any recreational programs. These vans will bring a variety of themed activities that allow for social distancing and stable groups such as field hockey, tennis, track & field, volleyball, skate ramps, and back to basics like jump ropes, hopscotch, and chalk art. During this pandemic, schools, playgrounds, and swimming pools have all been closed, and children have been restricted to staying at home with no recreation or sports programs available.
Progress So Far
Since being awarded the LA2050 grant and receiving funds from Goldhirsh Foundation and Annenberg Foundation, RAP has been working with various groups to achieve the vision and goals of this program. With the assistance of the Los Angeles Parks Foundation, RAP's first success has been to be able to purchase two 2020 Ford Transit cargo vans for the Mobile Recreation Program. The vans are currently with experts designing the interior of the vans to house the numerous concepts needed for the Mobile Recreation Program. RAP is also in dialogue with graphics experts to design artwork for the exterior of the vans. Simultaneously, RAP is in the midst of the City's administrative process to take full ownership of the vans for the dedicated purpose of utilizing them for a Mobile Recreation Program.
Once the vans are ready to mobilize, qualified skilled staff will drive them to various neighborhoods to provide activities such as badminton, judo, soccer, wheelchair basketball or tennis, and skateboarding to echo the spirit of the Olympic games. RAP staff will introduce youth to traditional and non-traditional Olympic and Paralympic Sports, as well as back to basic games.
The next steps toward implementing the Mobile Recreation Program are to secure all the necessary City approvals to take full possession of the vans and to complete the exterior artwork. RAP will determine the types and amount of play and sports equipment that is needed to fill these vans and then will move forward in making those purchases.
As the vans near completion, RAP will conduct outreach to the community by working with our public relations team and the parks, to market the opportunity to participate in mobile play.