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Opportunity Fund is investing in LA's future: immigrant entrepreneurs and small business owners

Posted August 23, 2017 by Opportunity Fund

More than 45% of families in LA County live below the self-sufficiency standard. In LA, it takes more than three full-time, minimum wage jobs for a typical family to pay for necessities. To bridge the income gap, many–in particular minorities and immigrants–turn to entrepreneurship as a path to economic security, a strategy that also stimulates job creation in their communities.

A 2012 CNN report noted, “[Small and medium enterprises] in the U.S. create over 85% of all jobs." If one in three microenterprises hired an additional person, the U.S. would return to full employment. Yet 50% of small businesses fail, often due to an inability to access affordable and responsible capital needed for growth because of language and cultural barriers, limited assets, and poor/insufficient credit.

Opportunity Fund's small business program is an investment in address this daunting economic indicator and reaching all small business owners to provide them with sound capital with which to build their enterprises.

Opportunity Fund is California's largest nonprofit microlender. Our innovative microlending model enables Los Angeles' underserved small business owners access so they can build vibrant enterprises, and a brighter future for themselves, their families and their communities. We provide loans from $2,600 to $250,000, at affordable, fixed interest rates to disadvantaged entrepreneurs. Our model balances technology, efficiency, market knowledge, and impact measurement to remove barriers to credit that many of our borrowers face when declined by banks.

We use a variety of innovative marketing strategies to reach small business owners including our street team of loan officers, bank referrals, online presence, and a first-of-its kind partnership with Lending Club, the nation's largest online lender. Last year, we launched our Community Partners Program in LA to provide multiple layers of microenterprise assistance, leverage each other's strengths and have a deeper reach.

Through Opportunity Fund's Community Partners Program, we've worked closely with community organizations like MCS BusinessSource Center which shares Opportunity Fund's core value of helping small business owners gain access to responsible and transparent lending. By working with MCS BusinessSource Center, Opportunity Fund has created a consistent referral channel for microbusiness, thereby generating new loan volume.

Through our ten LA community partners, including two signed in 2017, we have originated 32 loans for a loan volume of $353,751, creating/sustaining nearly 100 new jobs, and generating nearly $690,000 in new economic activity through new wages, spending and taxes. Building the framework to support our partners—such as product training, collateral marketing material, processes and communication channels, designing and writing a monthly partner-directed newsletter, and developing “how to" sessions with partners offered to small business clients—has demanded more time than originally anticipated. Going forward, with a strong system in place for our existing partners, Opportunity Fund's staff is anticipating being able to dedicate more time to adding more partners to the program, and originating new lending through that channel that creates stronger small businesses, economic mobility for our clients and their families, and employees.

If She Can See it, She Can Be It!

Posted August 18, 2017 by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

With the support of the LA2050 My Grants Challenge, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary's University recently launched its new Empowering Girls & Creating a Gender-Balanced Media Landscape program. This program provides scholarships for 50 girls from across Los Angeles to attend the Institute's See Jane Salon series, quarterly events that engage entertainment industry professionals and corporate influencers in discussions on achieving greater gender equity in media. In addition to attending the salons, scholarship recipients will also have the chance to take part in other special mentoring programs and opportunities over the course of one year.

The Institute partnered with local peer organizations, including the Fulfillment Fund, Urban Fitness 911, DIY Girls, LA Makerspace, and Steamcoders, to help spread the word and reach a diverse group of young woman.

The program's first salon, “The Easiest Way to Add Female Characters: It Starts With A Script!" was held at Fullscreen Media in Playa Vista on June 5, 2017. Program panelists included Geena Davis; Craig Gerber, Creator & Executive Producer of Disney's Elena of Avalor; Daron Nefcy, Creator & Executive Producer of Disney's Star vs. The Forces of Evil; and Rebecca Rusch, professional athlete and creator and star of the film Blood Road. Alex Cohen, KPCC's Morning Edition Host, moderated the discussion, which centered on ways to improve female representation in media that start in the writers' room.

As the Empowering Girls & Creating a Gender-Balanced Media Landscape program progresses, three more salons are planned for August, November, and February. Additionally, a program featuring a speed mentoring session with a range of entertainment industry professionals is scheduled for early September.

At the program's conclusion, the Institute will survey scholarship recipients to assess the quality of the program and its impact on their knowledge and interest in gender equity in media. The Institute will also evaluate the program's influence on inspiring the participants to pursue their own careers in the entertainment industry, and will track the number of participants who go on to attain internships and jobs in the industry or start their own creative endeavors or businesses.

Help LA get on the SXSW stage!

Posted August 17, 2017 by

SXSW's community panel picker gives YOU the opportunity to shape the sessions on the most innovative ideas, solutions, and thought leaders shaping issue ranging from education to the digital economy. No surprise that there are tons of great panel ideas submitted from LA. Here's a selection of awesome sessions from LA-based organizations and companies. Read on and vote on your favorites to help LA get on the SXSW stage!

Transforming LA's K-12 Public Schools

This session will examine how an in-district, public-private management model is transforming 18 of the highest needs K-12 traditional public schools in Los Angeles - the nation's second largest school district. The panel will feature Joan Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a former My LA2050 grantee.

David vs. Goliath: Disrupters in Hospitality

Be inspired by young founders of unique emerging concepts in the hospitality industry. Learn how they are successfully disrupting the status quo. Hear from Elvina Beck, the founder of PodShare, a revolutionary co-living concept ranked #1 on TripAdvisor in Los Angeles.

Arts Education - Who Gets It & Why It Matters

In 2016-17, the Los Angeles County Arts Ed Collective collected data about the quality, quantity and equity of arts education from schools and school districts across LA County. Matthew Agustin, Research Associate, Los Angeles County Arts Commission will focus on findings from the commission's analysis and what it reveals about the distribution of arts instruction in LA County.

#SiliconVarrios: Diversity in the Digital Economy

In order for communities to thrive in the digital economy, they need to be cultivated locally. This means businesses that are designed to sustain the surrounding community. Silicon Varrios cultivate relevant events and creative thinking to solve the needs that are unique to our neighborhoods. This dual presentation will explore this concept with two people that are shaping the digital economy from the barrios of Los Angeles. Featuring Leo Este, Creative Director, Small Green Door and Cisco Pinedo, Founder and CEO, Cisco Home

United We Stand: The Case For Digital Government

This panel of experts, from the left and the right, will address when, and how, governments can wake up to the digital demands of modern citizens. Ted Ross, CIO at City of Los Angeles, will be talking about what's happening locally.

Uplifting Youth Through Sports Opportunities

There is huge financial value in pro teams developing youth programs to get kids into their system, but teams are just now unlocking the tremendous social value of youth initiatives as well. We'll look at some best practices in sports of reaching youth communities, and explore the work that still needs to be done to provide further opportunities. Featuring Nichol Whiteman, Executive Director, Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.

Restoring the Triforium: A Crash-course in City Politics, Art Conservation, Public Outreach, and Historical Research

Posted August 16, 2017 by The Triforium Project

The Triforium Project is a group dedicated to the restoration and revival of an unusual piece of public art in Downtown Los Angeles, The Triforium. Built in 1975, The Triforium was a groundbreaking, technology-driven, interactive musical instrument designed to synchronize light and music in “polyphonoptic" compositions for all to enjoy. Unfortunately, it never quite worked as designed, and suffered a number of technological, financial, and political setbacks over its lifetime. Once a beacon of light, music, and color downtown, it has stood mute and dark for many years.

Because of the large-scale nature of the artwork—six stories!—its interrelated technological components, and the fact that The Triforium is part of the City of Los Angeles' public art collection, progress on restoring the Triforium has not been immediate. This is the nature of the beast.

Still, over the last six months, we've moved from planning conversations to concrete delegations in close partnership with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA):

  • DCA is now creating two initial conservator's reports of the Triforium, which we are partially funding with our grant funds, in order to assess the artwork's structural and technological integrity, and the cost of different restoration approaches.
  • While the civic wheels turn, one of the most substantial efforts we've made to support the Department of Cultural Affairs is to systematically digitize huge portions of Triforium artist Joseph Young's paper archive, shared with us by his family. By going through all of Joseph Young's materials and cross-referencing it with press accounts and the technology found in the Control Room, we've been able to put together a chronology of the artwork's life that will be invaluable to the conservator who takes on the final restoration.
  • We've also created a dossier of the archive's most important documents, substantiating our understanding that Joseph Young designed the Triforium to last centuries—and would have been tickled to see its computer system updated with each successive generation.
  • Finally, we created large-format scans of all the Triforium's original blueprints and schematics, which again, will be invaluable to assessing its structural integrity.

While the conservator's report is underway, we have made progress by doubling down on outreach, hosting site visits of the Triforium and its Control Room to interested parties and groups.

  • We've worked with City Council District 14 and the Department of General Services to clean up the Triforium's long-maligned Control Room, clearing it of trash, insects, and dust while installing archival images and information within sight of pedestrians.
  • We've hosted a tour and fundraiser with the Los Angeles Design Festival and created unique Triforium merchandise to raise further funds for the project's long-term goals.
  • We've identified volunteers with expertise in legacy computing, glasswork, and engineering in order to simplify (and save) on future assessments.

The last six months of working towards our goal of a musical, illuminated Triforium have been a crash-course in city politics, art conservation, public outreach, and historical research. Without the support of LA2050, we may well have walked away from this project, feeling daunted by its complex considerations. But the initial support of LA2050 has catalyzed us, legitimized us, and encouraged other funders to get on the Triforium bandwagon. Now the momentum is so great that we can't stop—and we can finally see the Triforium lights on the horizon!

Since January, we've received exciting press coverage that mirrors the excitement and momentum that has built around the Triforium:

​Checking Back On Our Vision for 100% Clean Energy in Los Angeles

Posted August 11, 2017 by Sierra Club My Generation

Back in 2016, the Sierra Club launched an effort with friends and allies to move Los Angeles to 100 percent clean energy. Los Angeles has long been plagued with dirty air, and is at increasing risk from climate change. Our dependence on fossil fuels is by far the biggest driver of these two problems.

On the flip side, Los Angeles has everything to gain from the transition to clean energy. Los Angeles is home to more than 115,000 clean energy jobs, even though less than 30 percent of our energy comes from renewables and just a fraction of cars are electric. Given the threats posed by fossil fuels and the benefits of the transition to clean energy, there's no time like the present to organize for 100 percent clean energy.

However, while threats to our environment, health, families, neighbors, and way of life continue, our best defense in Los Angeles has been a good offense. Sierra Club has been buoyed by the progress in the last six months to confront the dominance of the fossil fuel industry and turn a page towards 100 percent clean energy. We have three exciting updates to share:

  • Clean Air: Earlier this year, we (along with partner groups like Earthjustice and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice) took an important step forward in the transition to 100 percent clean energy when the air district finalized a new clean air plan that we supported. This progress is significant because Los Angeles still has the worst air quality in the United States and across the South Coast region, more than 5,000 people die prematurely each year from breathing dirty air, according to our air regulators. The problem is so severe that the region must swiftly shift away from fossil fuels, reducing smog-forming emissions by upwards of 90 percent. If implemented effectively, the clean air plan will go a long way to cleaning up the air and driving fossil fuels out of the region.
  • Clean Energy: Since passing a motion last year to study 100 percent clean energy, the Department of Water and Power has taken some really great steps towards this goal. First, the utility adopted a new interim clean energy goal of 50 percent clean energy by 2025. It also doubled its energy storage goals and proposed a plan to install nearly 1,000 megawatts of rooftop solar around Los Angeles by 2025. In June, the utility announced it was hitting pause on plans to build three large gas plants while it studies clean energy alternatives. Most recently, the utility kicked off its 100 percent clean energy working group, which includes Sierra Club and other allies. Needless to say, it's been a fast-paced first half of the year at the utility.
  • Clean Transportation: Working with labor and environmental advocates, we launched a coalition to encourage Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Agency to transition to 100 percent electric buses by 2030. The coalition's goals also include ensuring union jobs to build the buses and charging infrastructure, clean power to charge the buses, and priority benefits to low-income communities and communities of color. The effort has been met with fierce opposition from the natural gas industry, which currently powers Metro's buses, but success is in reach. In May, Mayor Garcetti sent a letter to the agency's CEO, requesting a plan for 100 percent electric buses. In June, staff presented a draft plan to make it happen. We haven't won yet, but it's inspiring to think that one major piece of the clean transportation puzzle may be in place soon.

Looking ahead, we still have a lot of work to do, but the future is bright. Up next? Los Angeles Metro's Board will consider a policy to accelerate the transition the 100 percent electric by 2030 in July. Through the summer and fall, our local utility will continue to chart its course towards 100 percent clean energy (no doubt with a few bumps along the way). All the while, the people of Los Angeles will continue to fight for a future defined not by who we aren't and what we're against, but by who we are, our values, and our vision for the future.

Coming to Hollywood: the Precise Barber College!

Posted August 8, 2017 by Gabe Torres

Two years ago, Long Beach based barber Gabe Torres suffered a life-threatening brain injury, and thought that he may never cut hair again. But, with a second chance at life, Gabe dreamed up the idea of a barber college for young people to learn the skills of a career that would change their lives, and would be a vehicle to provide dignity and care for those less fortunate in the community.

Cue Covenant House California, a nonprofit youth homeless shelter, who believed in Gabe's vision to create real career opportunities, teach entrepreneurial skills, and, most importantly, inspire a spirit of community service to their teenage clients.

Since receiving the My LA2050 grant, Gabe and Covenant House California have been hard at work pushing the barber college forward. However, they have also faced the tedious, bureaucratic process of state licensing, city permits, building leases and and renovations.

The good news is that while the school awaits accreditation by the State of California's Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), the Precise team is hard at work!

  • Gabe and Covenant House have secured a prime location in Hollywood on Santa Monica Blvd near the Covenant House to train student barbers. Currently, Gabe and the CHC team are working hard to prepare the space so that once the accreditation arrives the school will be ready to open its doors.
  • One of the unique features of the space is that there will be a fully operational Barber Shop adjacent to the school, providing an opportunity to engage the public, and for successful students to apprentice in a real barber shop while they complete their schooling. This real-life context will enable students to better understand the intricacies of running a business themselves.

And things are looking good! Check out these photos of the project:

The floors are in, the furniture has arrived, and the team is hard at work, focusing on the plumbing, electrical and technology necessary to make the space function.

Caltech's #Cleantech2Edtech program is helping LAUSD pilot new technology to mitigate the District's rising energy costs, with high school students!

Posted August 3, 2017 by Caltech

LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation and it faces a mounting energy bill. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is helping the District with a grant for piloting new technologies as part of an effort to mitigate the rising costs of water and energy.

To help respond, Cleantech 2 Edtech is bringing high school students from diverse backgrounds into the world of cleantech startups and seeding new career directions in Los Angeles. A program of Caltech's Resnick Sustainability Institute, Cleantech 2 Edtech's mission is to engage young people in environmental entrepreneurship by providing opportunities to work with new companies piloting energy saving technologies with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Students from participating schools will work with companies that will help the schools pinpoint their energy hot spots, and manage energy use better.

With the support of LA2050, Cleantech 2 Edtech is exploring new clean energy and water technologies with LAUSD while offering education and internship opportunities for high school students. To implement the program, Caltech has:

  • Recruited from the Rocket Fund, another Resnick Sustainability Institute program, the team identified Chai Energy and KEEWI as partners who could serve the District and work with students.
  • Received the commitment of six high schools, as of June, to participate in pilot projects hosted by LAUSD and Cleantech 2 Edtech. By partnering with LAUSD's Linked Learning network, Caltech was able to identify teachers searching for new ways to impart STEM learning. Participating LAUSD teachers will receive an externship to oversee the program and connect with company management.
  • Created a process for students and teachers to begin working with the two startups, assisting with field deployment, energy monitoring, collecting data, conducting market data, and more. In the Fall, Cleantech 2 Edtech students will form teams with peers to develop cleantech and sustainability projects that will engage their peers and stimulate creativity.

Cleantech 2 Edtech will contribute to LA2050's goals of making Los Angeles the best place to create and learn by: 1) nurturing the next generation of cleantech innovators and job creators; 2) helping schools secure cleaner energy and use water more efficiently; and 3) promoting a culture of energy awareness in schools.

Over the next six months, Caltech will track all program participants – students, teachers, companies - to assess their engagement and program satisfaction. Caltech also see if these technologies can be more widely adopted throughout LAUSD. If successful, Cleantech 2 Edtech could become a valued adjunct to entrepreneurial curriculum across the whole District.

Tierra del Sol is creating volunteer pathways to employment for more than 600 adults with developmental disabilities in LA

Posted July 29, 2017 by Tierra del Sol Foundation

Kids are learning. Seniors are finding valued relationships. The homeless are being fed. People are having their needs met by volunteers at more than 130 nonprofits throughout Los Angeles.

These acts of service are the work of more than 600 adults with significant developmental disabilities. Have you seen them around town? Maybe not, but chances are, you've seen the impact they're making.

As part of Tierra del Sol Foundation's Pathways to Employment through Professional Volunteerism services, adults with disabilities - such as Autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy - are overcoming stereotypes and societal barriers to find their passion, connect with others, serve their community, enhance their skills, and prepare for careers.

Since Tierra partnered with LA2050, 45 participants started new volunteer jobs and 90% improved their skills. In the past six months, Tierra has welcomed 23 new nonprofit volunteer sites. While this project increases rates of volunteerism, it also impacts many of the other LA2050 CONNECT metrics:

  • Access to free WiFi and the total number of local social media friends and connections Angelenos have. If forced to live without support, most people with disabilities would be low income, with simple things would be out of their reach, such as relationships developed online. Joe, an artist in Tierra's Careers in the Arts program, relies on Tierra staff's WiFi to expand relationships, and as a result, local businesses have commissioned his art.
  • Cultural events. Volunteers are supporting cultural events, such as those put on by The Discovery Cube, dA Center for the Arts, and McGroarty Art Center.
  • Government responsiveness to residents' needs. Coworkers, who have recognized the contributions being made by others with disabilities, are taking action when that level of community engagement is threatened. A family member, of one of Tierra's clients, recently submitted this letter to The Daily News. Hundreds of individuals within the Tierra community have contacted elected officials to express their support of Assembly Bill 279. As of June 8th, it has passed the Assembly and is in the Senate.
  • Voting rates. In addition to increasing advocacy, this project has given participants the passion and tools needed to vote. They can use public transportation to get to their voting location, express their opinions, get time off of work to vote, and request specialized voting equipment.
  • Travel time to work and public transit riders. Tierra is developing new volunteer site partnerships so participants can volunteer closer to home. For example, Tierra identified six people who, after being trained how to use the MTA, were able to travel more directly and efficiently from home to volunteer site to meetings. This has drastically reduced the amount of time in transit each day, and increased their quality of life and volunteer service.

There is still more to be done! Summer is a key time for college students to volunteer, including the 144 students in Tierra's NEXUS College to Career program. However, it is often hard to find a position that meets each person's career goals and schedule. Tierra is working with the Summer Youth program, run by the City of Los Angeles and Mayor Garcetti, to create short-term paid opportunities for these students.

By the end of 2017, almost 600 adults will either gain a volunteer position or continue providing value to their volunteer site. Fifty of these people will obtain a new position, finding their voice and being recognized for their contributions.

What does this journey look like? Watch Meagan and Nuvia's stories here. Or read how volunteerism was the key step between Rocio's college education and her career. As Rocio describes it, “My journey has been so incredible. I never thought I would end up here…" (page 7).

Altasea is Educating the Next Generation of Ocean and Sustainability Experts

Posted July 25, 2017 by Altasea

AltaSea and its network of STEM educators are helping make Los Angeles the best place to learn, working with young Angelenos to underscore the importance of our oceans in building sustainable lives for us all. AltaSea has assembled a dynamic and diverse group of partner organizations that have delivered ocean-based STEM lessons to more than 350 LAUSD students, with exciting programs including and not limited to: the Ocean Exploration Trust, Catalina Sea Ranch, Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI), and Blue Robotics.

Altasea's STEM Network on the LA Waterfront is delivering hands-on ocean exploration, providing young minds with thrilling and eye-opening experiences with cutting-edge science and technology. Students hear from accomplished scientists, tech innovators and entrepreneurs in Blue Tech, experiences that can shape lives and career choices.

Thus far, AltaSea has:

  • Provided 118 Dana Middle School students with tours of the E/V Nautilus via their partnership with Ocean Exploration Trust (OET). The E/V Nautilus is the exploration ship responsible for undersea discoveries such as the wreckage of John F. Kennedy's PT-109 and the WWII German battleship Bismarck. The students also met with scientists and engineers about to head to sea for an expedition.
  • Introduced students to aquaculture thanks to workshops at Catalina Sea Ranch. The program showed students how the company breeds the fastest-growing and strongest mussels at the first US offshore shellfish farm.

Later in the year:

  • Los Angeles Maritime Institute will welcome students aboard its Tall Ships this fall for its Topsail program. In the meantime, the institute came to AltaSea offices to teach knot-tying and about the effects of micro plastics on sea life.
  • Blue Robotics will teach students about Remote-Operated Vehicles in the waters just off AltaSea's wharf.

AltaSea's initial efforts have spawned new partnerships and programs that will further expand our network, such as:

  • The Boys and Girls Club of the Los Angeles Harbor, who will expand joint efforts through a pending grant from the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation. The grant will inspire sustainable careers in blue tech for the area's workforce, careers that can support innovation at the port for years to come.
  • Collaborative opportunities with other My LA2050 grant winners, such as the Surf Bus Foundation. Together, AltaSea and Surf Bus will bring students to the L.A. waterfront for ocean-oriented STEM programs this summer.

This ambitious array of STEM-related ocean education and experiences will, of course, ultimately be evaluated against a range of metrics to ensure it effectively delivers on its promise to the students, families, educators and others affected. Altasea is conducting student surveys before and after workshops to define success measures, and is developing a tracking system to keep students involved with our network. Our best success measure will be years in the making, as we educate and inspire students to become champions for a sustainable ocean and planet, to take more STEM classes, and to pursue careers that can help sustain our oceans and indeed, our planet.

With Lost Angels Children's Project, Lancaster Foster Youth are Restoring Classic Cars

Posted July 23, 2017 by Lost Angels Children's Project

Lost Angels Children's Project (LACP) youth development and training organization that provides at-risk and foster youth with career-related skills training through classic car restoration and customization. LACP provides a safe space for youth in the Lancaster area aged 13-19 to work on automobiles and channel their creativity to make unique works of art using the tools and skills learned in the workshops. Through the program, students are taught how to safely and properly use tools, equipment and machinery necessary for working on automobiles in an environment that provides them with important life skills and a healthy meal after school. LACP's strength is that the program is built on promoting critical thinking and offering a positive outlet for self-expression.

Receiving the My LA2050 Grants Challenge grant to make LA the best place to LEARN has made a tremendous impact on LACP.

  • Exposure from the My LA2050 grant has led to new partnerships and donors for LACP, one of which is with Jonathan Ward, Founder of ICON 4X4. Jonathan was able to provide the organization with in-kind donations from reputable companies in the auto industry.
  • Through a partnership with the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, LACP students did a first solo exhibit, displaying LACP student art work. The exhibit was available for viewing from June 9 through June 30, 2017.
  • LACP has directly served 23 at-risk, disadvantaged, and foster youth. The My LA2050 grant helped LACP expand hours to include four hours during evenings/after-school and an additional four hours on Saturdays.
  • LACP has been leveraging the success of the LA2050 grant in a variety of ways. Recently, LACP was recognized by radio station 104.3 FM, where radio hosts were rocking LACP gear.
  • Radio station 102.7 FM interviewed Executive Director Aaron Valencia and promoted LACP through their KIIS Cares program.
  • Coming up on August 9th, LACP will be featured on an episode of Jay Leno's Garage, where all of the kids took part in filming this unforgettable experience with Jay Leno at the Lancaster shop.

Right now, LACP students and staff are working hard to complete the 2017 automobile build — a 1958 Chevrolet Apache Pick Up — in time for the September 2nd Ventura Nationals. The main event of the year, this Labor Day Weekend, LACP will present and raffle off the completed customized truck. Tickets are on sale NOW and proceeds from the raffle will be used to implement Lost Angels Children's Project programming for another year.

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