Looking Beyond Disabilities


A working mom, Maisha Hughes worried about sending her 9-year-old daughter Asantewa to an after school program. Asantewa has autism and finding the right program was always a challenge—until she connected with AbilityFirst, a non-profit organization that provides programs for adults and children with disabilities.

Not only is the AbilityFirst center on Crenshaw Boulevard brand new, it is literally around the corner from Hughes’ home in Inglewood.

“It has been very helpful and convenient,” said Hughes. “If it wasn’t for AbilityFirst, I wouldn’t have another option. I am extremely blessed to have this.”

6,500 square foot Joan and Harry A. Mier Center

During the week, a school bus drops off children at the brand new 6,500 square foot Joan and Harry A. Mier Center after school where they can socialize, play outdoors, cook in a chef’s kitchen, draw, paint and even swim at the new indoor pool.

The center and its swimming pool is the only one of its kind serving children who live in South Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne and Gardena. During the summer, the center offers full day activities such as swimming lessons and even going to the movies.

“For more than 88 years, we have been looking beyond disabilities, focusing on capabilities, and expanding possibilities,” said Lori Gangemi, President and CEO of AbilityFirst. “We offer a broad range of programs and services to help children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities realize their full potential throughout their lives.”

AbilityFirst has 25 locations, including 10 group homes, three work centers, one camp for adults and children with disabilities, eight community centers and an Ability First Employment Services office.

“Simply put, AbilityFirst’s enrichment programs are first rate,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose office contributed $50,000 to complete the building and has a courtyard named in his honor. “They focus on what is possible and that philosophy has changed the lives of countless people with disabilities and their families. It has been a pleasure supporting them.”

Board Moves forward on Child Protection Recommendations

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Moving forward with key recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved pairing public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse for children under the age of two.

This move, based on a motion co-sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, will help medical and child welfare professionals evaluate if a child is in danger of abuse or needs immediate medical attention. The Board also moved forward with the recommendation to make sure these children get referred to special medical clinics (called “hubs”) to get immediate health screenings if the public health nurse deems it medically necessary.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Hub will be the first site to begin this partnership between social workers and public health nurses as part of the first phase of recommendations. The MLK Medical Hub will serve residents in Compton and the Vermont area of the DCFS regional offices. These enhancements will also make it possible to protect children and minimize disruption to families by having public health nurses evaluate children in their own homes.

In order to enhance all six medical hubs at county hospitals, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services will allocate $2-million to fund 14 new positions for doctors, nurses and one fellowship position. Annually, the Department of Children and Family Services estimates nearly 17,000 infants under the age of two in Los Angeles are at the greatest risk of being harmed.

“The time is now to move on the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “All children in L.A. County deserve a fighting chance. They should be able to grow up healthy, free from abuse and in nurturing environments.”

Added Supervisor Kuehl, “I am very happy there are steps we have taken today reflecting the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection was formed last year, based on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, to improve the safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system. The commission, comprised of experts in child welfare, social work and other areas, has issued two reports with recommendations for improving the system in Los Angeles County.

New Plan to End Youth Homelessness Unveiled

More than 200 leaders, advocates, and youth packed Holman United Methodist Church in West Adams recently to discuss potential solutions for ending youth homelessness in South Los Angeles. This group, the South Los Angeles Homeless and Foster Youth Collaborative, took the lead on fostering community dialogue and organizing the breakfast to unveil the “Homeless No More Community Plan.”

According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 8,713 homeless are under the age of 24 and 4,046 are between the ages of 18-24. South Los Angeles has the second highest concentration with 2,016 youth, representing 23 percent of the homeless youth population in Los Angeles County.

In response to the need for strategic interventions to lower these numbers, leaders, advocates, and youth formed the collaborative to find solutions. A year ago, after the collective’s first summit, the idea of a community plan was conceived to better understand the problems foster youth face and potential solutions to youth homelessness in South Los Angeles.

“No single organization is responsible for any major social problem, nor can any single organization cure it,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Latrina Wilcher, former foster youth & owner of Sweet Tri Pastries

Latrina Wilcher, 26, was born in South Los Angeles. She was at the Holman organizing breakfast to work as a caterer, and shared her story of homelessness. Wilcher said she was taken away from her mother when she was two-years-old, and after passing through a series of group and foster homes, she became homeless.

“When you turn 18, they kick you out,” she said. “But it takes time to get back on your feet especially when you’ve had a horrible childhood.”

Luckily, she met Janet Kelly, the executive director of Sanctuary of Hope and the co-founder of the collaborative. Kelly helped enroll Wilcher in a mentorship program and start her own catering business.

For the past year, with support from the Office Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, leaders from across business, law enforcement, government, health, academic, interfaith, philanthropic and non-profit sectors as well as former homeless youth engaged in a series of meetings and committed themselves to identifying a plan to prevent vulnerable youth from becoming homeless. The meetings resulted in the “Homeless No More” community plan, a roadmap to move forward in the years ahead.

“Our youth may be homeless, but they are not hopeless,” said Reverend Kelvin Sauls, the pastor of Holman United Methodist Church and the chair of the collaborative.

The collaborative identified six strategic objectives to be implemented by 2019:

  • Improve the coordination of services, simplify access, and eliminate barriers
  • Increase and improve housing options for homeless youth in South LA.
  • Coordinate and enhance critical support systems and services targeting homeless TAY and foster care youth.
  • Improve public policies and systems that address or omit homeless and at-risk youth.
  • Produce and compile data and research that best describes the opportunities, needs, and gaps of homeless and at-risk youth in the South LA region.
  • Expand leadership, collaborative will, and service capacity of South South LA service providers, the faith-based community, community leaders and Transitions Age Youth.

“This plan provides hope for a community that has lacked resources,” said Gerald Thompson, co-founder and director of the collaborative.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at unveiling of “Homeless No More Community Plan”

“Our young people deserve permanent solutions such as housing, access to a shower, clean clothes, and career opportunities. This is a bold step forward, but much work remains to deliver those solutions,” the Supervisor said.

According to LAHSA Commissioner Booker Pearson, 70% of individuals in California prisons were in foster care at one time. Prison costs an average of about $47,000 per year per inmate in California.

“Think it’s cheaper to house a kid then let him go to foster care and wind up in prison?” Pearson asked rhetorically. “This is not only the right and moral thing to do. It’s economic suicide to ignore our homeless children.”

For more information, visit the collective’s website at www.southlatay.org.

Blue Ribbon Commission Holds First Meeting

Blue Ribbon Commissioner David Sanders and Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection held its first meeting on Thursday, August 1 in the Hall of Administration Board room.

The independent commission, composed of two appointees by each supervisor, is charged with rigorously examining why child protection reforms at the Department of Children and Family Services, as well as other county agencies, have not been implemented. The commission is expected to make its recommendations for an overhaul within six months.

The full agenda is available here.

Click here for the complete media advisory.

Here is the list of appointees and their brief bios:

First District:

Andrea Rich: Rich served as President and Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (“LACMA”) from 1999 to 2005. Prior to her decade-long tenure at LACMA, she served as Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Richard Martinez: Martinez is a long-time educator who serves as the Superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District. He is a member of the Association of California School Administrators, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators. He has an undergraduate degree in social work from California State University Los Angeles.

Second District:

Marilyn Flynn: Flynn was first appointed dean of the USC School of Social Work in 1997, and was reappointed in 2011. She has overseen the expansion of the school’s Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services and recruited a nationally recognized faculty to conduct clinical and intervention studies in health, mental health, aging and child maltreatment. She was the President of the St. Louis Group, representing most U.S. based schools of social work in major research institutions.

David Sanders: Sanders, the former director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, is now executive vice president of systems improvement for Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation dedicated solely to providing and improving foster care.

Third District:

Terry Friedman: Judge Friedman served on the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1995-2010, including two years as Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, the largest juvenile court in the United States. Since 2005, Judge Friedman has been a member of the California Judicial Council, the policy making body for the state judiciary. He was elected President of the California Judges Association in 2005.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie: Gilbert-Lurie is a writer, lawyer, teacher and past president of Los Angeles County Office of Education and founding member of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. She spent close to a decade as an executive at NBC.

Fourth District:

Janet Teague: Teague served for 11 years on the Los Angeles County Commission for Children and Families and on the board of the Alliance for Children’s Rights. She began her philanthropic work by providing scholarships through her foundation, the Teague Foundation, to the Department of Children and Family Services.

Gabriella Holt: Holt is the third vice-president of the Los Angeles County Probation Commission. She is a former nurse who currently serves on the Los Angeles County Comprehensive Education Reform Committee, which seeks to design and implement major education reforms in the county’s court school system. She is a voting member of the Los Angeles County Criminal Justice Coordination Committee.

Fifth District:

Dickran Tevrizian Jr.: Judge Tevrizian is a retired federal judge who was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Currently a mediator with Jams, he also serves on the county’s Jail Violence Commission appointed by Supervisor Antonovich.

Sgt. Dan Scott: As a sergeant with the LA County Sheriff’s Dept., Scott has supervised the investigation of 4,000 criminal investigations of child abuse and sexual assault. He is one of the nation’s leading experts in child abuse, he has conducted over 1,500 criminal investigations in which he has interviewed over 1800 child and adult victims and over 1,500 suspects.

Protecting the County’s Children


Following the heartbreaking death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez last month and revelations that the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and other agencies failed to intervene despite multiple abuse allegations made by family and teachers, Los Angeles County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich have authored a motion to create an independent commission tasked with digging deeper into why child protection reforms have not been implemented. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection Review would be made up of two members appointed by each supervisor by July 1, 2013. The commission would investigate all previously delayed or failed efforts to implement reforms and provide recommendations for a feasible plan of action at DCFS. The commission would also analyze the current structure and scope of DCFS as well as ways to increase cooperation between the departments of Mental Health, Public Health, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, District Attorney, Dependency Court and commissions to better protect children.

“When the lives of children are at stake, we simply cannot stand by and hope that reforms take hold,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “The hope is that this commission will examine the actions, or inaction, that have led to the deaths of innocent children and develop a true action plan not a band-aid solution.”

Added Supervisor Antonovich: “This commission will examine the full scope of departments involved, including Mental Health, Public Health and law enforcement, as well as the current public policies in place to more effectively help prevent future tragedies and improve outcomes for children.”