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A Grassroots Mission in Watts UCLA Luskin’s Watts Leadership Institute launches a 10-year program to build a legacy of leaders and empowerment

By George Foulsham

WATTS — If you’re searching for the heartbeat of the UCLA Watts Leadership Institute, look no further than 10360 Wilmington Ave. in Los Angeles. What was once a liquor store is now the home of the multi-faceted Watts Century Latino Organization.

On a recent Saturday, more than 70 volunteers gathered here to help with a grassroots task: assemble and plant a community garden. The event was part of the citywide Sharefest Community Workday, but it represented much more for Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and for the Watts Leadership Institute’s first cohort — community members who hold the key to deepening the indigenous leadership of Watts.

“This is the beginning,” Leap said as the volunteers spread mulch around four large planter boxes. “We’re going to be bringing in youth from the various middle and high schools throughout the area. They’re going to be learning about gardening, they’re going to be learning about healthy eating, and they’re going to be developing strategies for contributing to their community.”

It’s just one example of what the Watts Leadership Institute hopes to bring to a part of L.A. that Leap has been engaged in since she was a social welfare graduate student at UCLA in the 1970s. Leap and project partner Karrah Lompa MSW ’13 have launched an institute that’s making a 10-year commitment to Watts.

The Watts Leadership Institute received its key initial funding through a two-year, $200,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation. In turn, the WLI GRoW Community Garden is supported by a two-year, $100,000 grant from GRoW @ Annenberg, a philanthropic initiative led by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, dedicated to supporting humanitarian efforts across the globe as well as innovative projects in health, education, the arts and civic & cultural life. The Sharefest Community Workday provided additional support for the community garden from Sharefest, the Mars Corporation and Our Foods.

“This kind of a public-private partnership, along with the research attached to it — and the building of the Watts community — really represent the best of how all of these different factors can come together,” Leap said. “It represents part of UCLA’s continuing and growing commitment to communities like Watts that need our involvement, our engagement, our organizing, our research. We’re also learning from them and being taught by them.”

The garden project marked the first time that the institute’s cohort was able to engage Watts residents — and many other volunteers — in the community garden, according to Lompa. “The community was able to get their hands dirty, to help make the garden a reality and to take ownership,” she said. “The volunteers included cohort members, institute fellows, UCLA students and alumni, community members, corporate volunteers and representatives from the Annenberg Foundation. It was everybody coming together to launch the community garden.”

Among the community members in the institute’s first cohort are Pahola Ybarra and her father, Arturo Ybarra. Pahola is program manager and Arturo is the founder and executive director of the Watts Century Latino Organization, which has galvanized the growing Latino population in Watts. The center’s programs are credited with helping to build significant bridges between Latinos and African-Americans. To accomplish this, Pahola and Arturo are among the community leaders recruited by Leap as part of the initial leadership cohort in the institute.

When she approached the Ybarras about becoming part of the institute, Leap asked for guidance about the best way to bring Latinos in the community aboard. Pahola suggested teaching Latino leaders how to start a 501(c)3 nonprofit as a way to “teach them how to do bigger things in the community,” Ybarra said.

It’s only 2.1 square miles, but Watts has more than 190 nonprofits. The problem, according to Ybarra, is that there has always been overlap in the services offered by the various nonprofits.

“What Watts Leadership did was to help us come together, to put our resources together, and be an example for the rest of the nonprofit and leadership community in Watts,” Ybarra said. “It’s been an amazing effort to help us grow, and to help us get out of our own way. It encourages us to reach for as much as we can and do as much as we can in the community.”

Leap often draws upon social welfare professor Zeke Hasenfeld’s Luskin research, which initially characterized Watts as a “nonprofit desert,” but she’s hoping the institute can change that perception by training the first cohort of leaders who will then share their knowledge with a second and a third generation. One of the institute’s goals is to build a comprehensive infrastructure of nonprofits in Watts and use it as a model to build indigenous leadership. That was part of the strategy of the WLI GRoW Community Garden and it was kicked off on this volunteer day.

“This probably doesn’t look like an economic development project now,” said John Jones III, field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents Watts. “But in the future, when things are growing from here, different businesses might come and buy the fruits and vegetables from here that will help this nonprofit thrive.”

Jones credits Leap and Lompa with teaching community members how to build a better community. “When the Watts Institute grows, this organization will be stronger, it will be better, and the Watts community will be better because of the lessons they learned,” Jones said.

That legacy approach is key to the success of the institute, Leap said.

“We will serve those within the community who will lead and will teach,” she said. “This way, we not only build capacity, we build a continuum of leadership that is cross-generational. Luskin is not going to leave, but we ultimately want Watts in the lead.”

Cohort member Kathryn Wooten, the founder and executive director of Loving Hands Community Care, is a lifelong resident of Watts whose organization was struggling until she was recruited by Leap to be a part of the institute. As part of the cohort training, Wooten and others were provided with computers and trained in how to use them.

“It’s almost too good to be true,” Wooten said. “Since I’ve been a part of it, my organization is more professional. I have all the things I need to run a business because of the cohort and their guidance. I now know how to use a computer.”

Leap’s approach to this project is motivated by a powerful sense of duty.

“This is my way of paying back,” she said. “I did come here in 1978 as a very callow MSW student, and the Watts community took me under its wing and taught me. UCLA afforded me the opportunity to learn here. This community has given a great deal to me, and it is my responsibility and my honor to pay that back, to listen and to really serve in the most meaningful way that I can.”

A Multimillion-Dollar Boost to Tackle Transportation Challenges Grant will support UCLA Luskin’s Institute of Transportation Studies as part of a research collaboration in a new regional center

By Stan Paul

Thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, faculty, staff researchers, and students affiliated with the UCLA Luskin Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) will be part of a new regional transportation center that will tackle some of the most important transportation issues facing America.

“Universities are at the forefront of identifying solutions, researching critical emerging issues and ensuring improved access to opportunity for all Americans,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in announcing more than $300 million in grants to 32 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) nationwide, selected from among 212 proposals submitted. “This competition supports the future transportation workforce by providing students with opportunities to take part in cutting-edge research with leading experts in the field.”

UCLA Luskin’s ITS will collaborate on this new center with USC and universities in four states — California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii — as well as the U.S. Pacific Island territories. The new Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center is one of ten new federal regional centers, and will focus on transportation issues facing the southwestern and Pacific regions of the U.S.

“We are thrilled to be a partner in this new university transportation research center, and by the opportunity it presents to our faculty and students to conduct needed research on the many transportation challenges facing our region,” said Brian Taylor UP PhD ’92, director of the UCLA ITS and a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin. Taylor noted that the new center will address new transportation technologies, improving mobility for vulnerable populations, improving transportation system resilience and protecting the environment, and managing mobility in high-growth urban areas.

“This new center will help the Institute of Transportation Studies continue to recruit the best and the brightest transportation students to UCLA for graduate study, and it will in addition support both faculty and students across the campus in conducting a wide range of research projects — from harnessing the benefits of cleaner technology-driven smart mobility, to better serving the mobility needs of the poor,” explained Taylor, who also leads the Luskin School’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies.

The five-year, $14-million DOT grant will be matched by an additional $14 million from the California Department of Transportation and other sources to support a wide array of research, education and technology transfer programs at the consortium member universities. Taylor said the new center will bring at least $500,000 per year to UCLA, with more than half of that amount funding graduate student fellowships and research projects.

The new Pacific Southwest Region UTC will be directed by USC professor Genevieve Giuliano, who in winter and spring of 2016 was the Harvey Perloff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Urban Planning in the UCLA Luskin School. The other participating institutions in the consortium are Cal State Long Beach, UC Davis, UC Irvine, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Northern Arizona University and Pima Community College.

 

Connecting the Dots on American Diplomacy, Foreign Policy and Religion Peter Kovach’s lecture and the annual Senior Fellows Breakfast mark start of the 20th year for Luskin School mentorship program

By Stan Paul

As a former senior Foreign Service officer for the U.S. State Department, Peter Kovach’s decades-long diplomatic career took him around the globe, from assignments in Japan, Jordan and Morocco to posts in Pakistan, Yemen and Bahrain. His accomplishments include groundbreaking work incorporating aspects of religion, values and civil society into U.S. diplomacy, with his most recent assignment leading the Office of International Religious Freedom.

The former Diplomat in Residence at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, who has also held posts in Washington D.C., delivered the first in a new Senior Fellows speaker series made possible by the generosity of Luskin donors. Kovach, also a Luskin Senior Fellow, discussed how religion and philosophy can influence identities — political and social — in his presentation, “Religion and Diplomacy — A Slow but Steady Courtship,” providing a historical perspective of religion and U.S. foreign policy around the world.

“It (religion) has got a bad rap as sort of a creator of conflict,” Kovach said. “The fact is, I think, according to conflict theory, it’s kind of a downstream element,” adding his observation that insecurity — physical and economic — rather than religion is the most immediate cause of conflict.

Kovach, who began his diplomacy career in 1980, said his personal education as a religion major in college and a spiritual journey while an undergraduate led him to India where he studied under the tutelage of a French Benedictine and swami who embraced both Catholic and Hindu traditions.

“I have Jewish, Catholic and Muslim antecedents, and my parents were militant agnostics — if not atheists — but we lived as an extended family and I had some very devout Catholic relatives growing up in Irish Catholic Boston,” Kovach said.

Explaining why he shares his own religious background, Kovach said, “I do this because one of the real cornerstones of engaging as a diplomat with faith-based civil society is knowing your own biography and being able to be open about it.”

Kovach said the theme of his talk was inspired by a conversation he had with the CEO of a major U.S. cable and satellite television network who told him, “culture trumps strategy.”

“I think that is such a good comment on several levels but definitely in bureaucracies and in governments,” Kovach said, expanding on his premise that religion and philosophical values matter on personal and communal levels. “They’re embedded in all human endeavors.”

Kovach also talked about impediments to engaging the secular with the non-secular, the history of that engagement and finding overlaps, such as ethics, to “the great traditions” of the world. “Economic decisions and cooperation are influenced by faith communities at times, by values, by institutions,” he said.

“That’s where as a diplomat we get very, very interested. I’m a public diplomacy specialist and we’re all about influencing foreign audiences — if they don’t buy our policy — to at least understand where we’re coming from and what values they’re based on to have a more discriminating view of the United States,” Kovach said.

Kovach’s lecture, co-sponsored by the UCLA Burkle Center, followed the Luskin School’s annual Senior Fellows Breakfast, adding 13 new fellows to the list of those who have served since the program was founded in 1997. Several Senior Fellows from past classes have remained connected to the school and will continue to serve as mentors for students this year, according to VC Powe, director of Career Services and Leadership Development at Luskin.

At their first official meeting of the year, the fellows and their students, representing the departments of Public Policy, Social Welfare and Urban Planning, were already making their plans for the year ahead and the opportunities afforded by the program’s mentors.

Darin Chidsey, chief operating officer for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), who was introduced by Luskin Interim Dean Lois Takahashi, provided tips to new mentors. Chidsey, who represented veteran Senior Fellow Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of SCAG, has co-mentored Hasan’s students and has supervised past Luskin Leadership fellows.

Among this year’s class of Senior Fellows is UCLA alumna Wendy Greuel, a former member of the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles city controller who has remained involved with UCLA and Luskin.

“This is my first year as a fellow,” Greuel said. “I’m excited about doing it and I have two wonderful students who are interested in local government and recognize the importance of it. That makes me not just excited, but over the moon because too many young people are only looking nationally and don’t understand the importance of local government. I’m looking forward to exposing them to even more activities and opportunities here, in particular at a great university like UCLA.”

Greuel’s current role is chair of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). “In L.A., there is nothing more local than the homeless that are living on the streets,” she said. “I started my career working for Mayor (Tom) Bradley as an intern from UCLA and ultimately worked on the homeless issue and know how difficult it is. I’m excited to be part of it again and expose these two students to solutions to some tough problems.”

Dennis Avila, a second-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) student, was matched with returning Senior Fellow Thomas Epstein, vice president of public affairs for health care provider Blue Shield of California, who will be taking on a new role as incoming vice president on the board of California Community Colleges.

Avila said his personal interest as a former community college student led to his match with Epstein. Avila said he already has made plans to make his first trip to Sacramento through the program, “to get to know the State Capitol and see how it actually works, how it plays out from the top down.”

Through this partnership with leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, many students have benefitted from the advice and experience of their Senior Fellow mentors. Many have also launched careers that started from their experiences as students at Luskin. Still others have come back as leaders to serve as Senior Fellow mentors in their own right.

The Class of 2016-2017 Senior Fellows:

Paul Arevalo, city manager, city of West Hollywood

Donna E. Deutchman, CEO, Habitat for Humanity (San Fernando/Santa Clarita)

Shane Murphy Goldsmith, president and CEO, Liberty Hill Foundation

Wendy Greuel, commissioner, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA)

Lisa Hasegawa, executive director, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development

Lorri L. Jean, CEO, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Mitchell Katz, MD, director, Los Angeles County Health Agency

Vickie Kropenske, executive director – Hope Street Family Center

Ann-Louise Kuhns, president and CEO, California Children’s Hospital Association

Shawn Landres, co-founder, Jumpstart Labs; chair, board of managers, Impact Hub LA

Adrienne Luce, executive director, HMC Architects Designing Futures Foundation; CSR Consultant

Barbara Osborn, director of communications, Los Angeles County Supervisor

Gene Seroka, executive director, Port of Los Angeles

Not a Walk in the Park In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County

In new study, UCLA Luskin Urban Planning and Social Welfare scholars recommend park planning with consideration for the needs of senior citizens of L.A. County