Opinion

Putting people before partisanship

A political rally last year in Santa Monica. (Photo: Joseph Sohm)

In this political climate, you don’t have to look far to find pessimism and finger pointing when it comes to our problems. But look a little deeper and there are some important – and inspiring – examples of problem solving in California that rise above politics and division.

Examples like Areva Martin. An attorney in Los Angeles, she knew something was wrong when her son was not speaking by age two. When he was diagnosed autism, Martin embarked on an exhausting hunt for specialists and therapies.

Martin and five other innovators will each receive $200,000 to advance work that has proven effective and replicable in solving critical challenges facing our state.

The process was frustrating and confusing, and she realized that families of color, especially those who lack income or education, face greater obstacles to securing diagnoses for development disabilities – and the therapies their children need.

Martin launched Special Needs Network to help families navigate complex care systems and get the resources their children are entitled to by law. She held parent advocacy boot-camps, opened a Los Angeles clinic offering one-stop services and championed legislation requiring insurers to cover behavioral treatments.

Since 2005, Special Needs Network has served 40,000 families and opened up therapies to more than 83,000 children.

This kind of impact and ingenuity is happening throughout California but often can go overlooked. Fortunately, The James Irvine Foundation shines a spotlight each year on leaders like Martin through its annual Leadership Awards. This year, Martin and five other innovators will each receive $200,000 to advance work that has proven effective and replicable in solving critical challenges facing our state.

For example, Julia Wilson recognized that too few attorneys in rural areas meant too many Californians were going without basic legal services and protections. Her organization, OneJustice, uses a Justice Bus to bring legal aid from cities to 1,200 rural, low-income clients per year.

Doniece Sandoval recognized that something as basic as personal hygiene can restore dignity for people experiencing homeless. She turned retired San Francisco buses into mobile shower units as part of a concept she calls “radical hospitality.” Sandoval’s startup, Lava Mae, has served 3,000 people in San Francisco and now is expanding to Los Angeles and Venice.

Ken Berrick, troubled by the trend of removing “problem children” from class and school, developed the “Unconditional Education” model at Seneca Family of Agencies to ensure that young people facing trauma get the mental and emotional support they need – and stay in school. The model is now helping children in dozens of schools throughout the state.

Tony Brown is keeping Los Angeles children engaged in their education by providing quality after-school programs. His Heart of Los Angeles program partners with the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Philharmonic, as well as college prep programs to inspire kids – and improve their test scores and enrollment rates for college.

Dora Westerlund is showing how investing in entrepreneurs in the Central Valley, including Spanish speakers, can change lives and communities. At the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, she expanded a microloan program and launched an incubator to support new business owners. Since 2011, the program has generated 80 businesses that translates to 12,000 jobs – and an economic impact of $200 million.

At a time of deep political division in our country, these Californians epitomize a spirit of service and creativity among leaders in our state to solve our toughest problems – especially problems facing individuals and communities that can be overlooked and underfunded.

While lawmakers from opposing parties may not always agree on policy, we all can certainly learn from these promising approaches and celebrate work that strengthens our state’s civic fabric.

Ed’s Note: State Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, represents the 18th Senate District. Assemblymember Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, represents the 77th Assembly District. The James Irvine Foundation 2017 Leadership Award recipients will be honored during a floor session of the California State Senate on Feb. 9. Corrects name to Tony Brown, 10th graf. 


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