December 24, 2012
The work of a local political columnist is critiquing: analyzing which candidates make sense and which don't, explaining which agencies are effective and which aren't. But there is another aspect to reporting on this region's issues: getting to know the good work of people and organizations on the outskirts of Los Angeles government that succeed in easing the city's burdens. With the season in mind, here are a few of those organizations.
Homeboy Industries (http://homeboyindustries.org): Headed by Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy has long been a centerpiece of this region's humanity. It provides tattoo removal, job counseling, mental health services and jobs at its companies, including a bakery and a successful cafe. Boyle directs Homeboy's bustling offices at the edge of Chinatown, where more than 1,000 people a month come for help and scores hold jobs. Although Homeboy was on the verge of collapse a few years back — the victim of demand for its services and the recession, among other things — it is fully back to life these days. The organization is more than just noble, it's notably efficient. An independent analysis concluded that it spends more than 80% of its revenue on its operations.
The Jenesse Center (https://jenesse.org): Domestic violence is a scourge that damages too much of Los Angeles and one whose victims often are afraid to seek help. The Jenesse Center devotes its small staff to providing refuge to women and children who are in danger, and it is the rare program that provides shelter to older children and even men. The center's profile has been aided in recent years by actress Halle Berry's work on its behalf. But its heartbeat is that of its inspiring executive director, Karen Earl, who manages a shoestring annual budget of about $3 million and yet finds a way to help protect, educate and heal more than 2,500 clients a year. "Peace in our homes," as Earl puts it, "is a human rights issue." (Disclosure: My wife sits on the board of the center, and my son volunteers as a counselor in its summer program. Neither is paid for that work.)
El Monte Community Building Initiative (https://www.calfund.org/page.aspx?pid=684): Six years ago, the California Community Foundation set out to tackle what its president, Antonia Hernandez, calls the "suburbanization of poverty" — the spread of desperately low-income communities out of traditional urban cores and into what are generally thought to be more prosperous suburbs. It focused those efforts on El Monte and has been providing $1 million a year for programs promoting health and athletics, including efforts to ensure that children are covered by health insurance. The program is contemplated as a 10-year undertaking and is continuously cultivating deeper community involvement.
Chrysalis (http://www.changelives.org): On skid row, some agencies serve food. Some supply housing. Chrysalis puts people to work. That's been a monumental task in recent years as its clients, many recovering from drug abuse or emerging from prison, have been thrust into an economy with few opportunities. That's made Chrysalis' work all the more important, and a recent expansion has given it greater reach: The number of clients increased 16% in September, the month after the expanded center opened. Every time a Chrysalis client lands a job, workers ring a bell to mark the moment. Since 1984, they've had the occasion to ring that bell more than 40,000 times. And, like Homeboy, Chrysalis is extraordinarily efficient with its resources: Nearly 90% of all money it raises goes toward programs.
Delancey Street Foundation (http://www.delanceystreetfoundation.org/): Founded in San Francisco but with a major Los Angeles center in a converted hotel on Vermont Avenue, Delancey runs intensive, long-term residential and training facilities for former inmates and drug abusers. Residents live at the centers, which are staffed entirely by volunteers, for at least two years, and initially are cut off from friends and family. It's hard-core, but Delancey's residents are inspiringly committed to one another, and the organization has successfully given new hope to more than 18,000 men and women. Delancey receives no government funding, and its residents pay nothing to be part of the program, though they are immediately kicked out if they return to drugs or violence. Delancey derives much of its income from the sale of holiday ornaments and trees, so if you have a last-minute shortage of either, Delancey offers a solution that also furthers its important work.
There are many more worthy organizations than just these, of course. But I've seen each of these at work. Each is dedicated and deeply important to the merciful core of Los Angeles. In every season, they deserve our support. Merry Christmas.
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