Education, Arts & Culture

Feeding Families for the Holidays

For the eighth consecutive year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas partnered with Golden State Water Company to deliver 200 turkeys to families in need.

“We all deserve a hearty meal and a joyful celebration for the holidays,” said the Supervisor.

Since 1990, Golden State has been donating turkeys to disadvantaged families for the Thanksgiving holiday through a program called “Operation Gobble.” Operation Gobble is a non-denominational and non-partisan undertaking in which the company partners with local elected officials who help direct the donations to community food banks, churches and other non-profit organizations. Throughout November, Golden State delivered more than 10,000 turkeys to families through various organizations and charities in California

The turkeys were delivered to over twenty community organizations who will in turn feed families in need for the holiday. This year Florence Firestone Senior Center, Lennox Senior Center, Asian Senior Center, East Rancho Senior Center, Roosevelt Senior Center, Lynwood Senior Center, Willowbrook Senior Center, Yvonne Burke Senior Center, and L.A. Academy Middle School were among the participating organizations.

“Thanksgiving is a special time for families,” said David Craven a resident of South Los Angeles.

Tennis Courts Named after Venus and Serena Williams

venus-and-serena-7Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas renamed the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park after two of the sports’ greatest athletes, Venus and Serena Williams, who played there as children.

“East Rancho Dominguez builds champions and we have this community to thank for that,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at a dedication ceremony attended by both sisters. “Now, we honor two of this park’s most esteemed, successful and inspiring alums, Venus and Serena Williams, who are role models for the youth of this community.”

venus-and-serena-2“We are really excited to be here,” said Serena, who with 22 Grand Slam titles is considered one of the best tennis players of all time. “We definitely want to see some more champions come from these courts.”

“To have the tennis court refurbished, to make sure that there’s coaching available, to make sure that these programs go on, and to make sure that this sport stays here in our community, it’s a big part of bringing us all up and creating positivity for young people,” said Venus, who has seven Grand Slam titles.

venus-and-serena-5Venus and Serena were toddlers when their family moved to Compton in the early 1980s. Both started playing tennis soon thereafter, coached by their parents, Richard and Oracene. They considered the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park, formerly East Compton Park, as their “home court” until they moved to Florida in the early 1990s to further their athletic careers.

In September 2015, the East Rancho Dominguez Neighborhood Association, then led by Sinetta Farley, launched the campaign to rename the tennis courts after the Williams sisters. “East Rancho Dominguez Park has a youth tennis team that plays on the court. Now they have role models that they can identify with,” Farley said after the dedication ceremony.

LA County Department of Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker added, “The Williams’ sisters are such an inspiration.  With hard work, dedication and perseverance, they have shown that you can reach your dreams. We are so honored they started their successful careers with practices at one of our LA County parks.”

venus-and-serena-6

SEE MORE PHOTOS

Improving Child Safety

sad child with his head between his legs left alone at home

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved reevaluating Los Angeles County’s child risk assessment tool following the death of 11-year-old Yonatan Aguilar in Echo Park.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Mark Ridley-Thomas coauthored the motion directing the Office of Child Protection and the Department of Children and Family Services to report in 30 days on the strengths and weaknesses of Structured Decision Making (SDM), a tool to help social workers gauge the likelihood of child abuse.

The motion also called for exploring the effectiveness of other tools, such as predictive analytics and the Approach to Understanding Risk Assessment (AURA) project.

The Board approved a similar review of SDM back in 2009, after the death of 6-year-old Dae’von Bailey. The 2009 motion, authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, stressed a “critical and immediate need to address and ameliorate the situation” to prevent further tragedies. It recommended identifying any breakdown or deficiency in existing policies; reviewing and evaluating the efficacy and utilization of SDM; and comparing social workers’ caseload ratios with optimum staffing practices.

“We understand that no algorithm or software can take the place of a well-trained, observant, and conscientious professional,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “However, technology and data can refine our accuracy, enhance our decision-making, and expedite our services.”

Supervisor Antonovich said, “This motion will provide an overview of the use of the SDM tool while exploring possible enhancements and alternatives to further support risk assessment for at-risk children. Through these efforts, we anticipate continued improvements to child protection.”

Butterfly Pavilion Opens at NHM

fullsizerender3

Completing its own metamorphosis, a new and improved Butterfly Pavilion has opened at the Natural History Museum, delighting visitors of all ages.

“The Butterfly Pavilion is an important way to deliver on an idea that’s important to me and to the Museum – the idea of introducing nature and its stewardship in a fun way,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said during opening day ceremonies.

fullsizerender5Located on the south side of the museum, the permanent structure is larger and airier than the outdoor exhibits in previous years . The enclosed habitat has hundreds of butterflies, their colorful wings fluttering above flowers laden with nectar. Some butterflies even alight on visitors, usually those wearing colorful outfits and hats.

Museum staff are on hand to point out monarchs, queens, malachites, mourning cloaks, grey crackers and buckeyes, as well as caterpillars and chrysalises. They can also provide information about metamorphosis and butterfly anatomy.

“The Pavilion is an important part of the museum’s approach to city nature,”said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, NHM President and Director.  “It was the first living habitat we had, and as we began to shift to an indoor / outdoor museum, we used a lot of the lessons we learned.”

She added, “We wanted a place that was relaxing and fun, but that also had science at its core – science we could deliver in accessible, friendly ways, to people of all ages and backgrounds, no matter what they thought about nature.”

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-4-43-17-pmSupervisor Ridley-Thomas said the Butterfly Pavilion is the latest landmark in a place already teeming with them.

“Exposition Park is the heart of the Second District and I am proud that it is the center of culture, science, education, sports, and economic development in our County,” he said.  “It’s an honor to be here on the opening day of the Butterfly Pavilion, which joins USC, the Coliseum, the Space Shuttle, the Rose Garden, the Rams and the new home of the LA Football Club, among Exposition Park’s iconic destinations.”
fullsizerender2

Graduation Motivation

IMG_0561Hoping it will motivate at-risk youth to stay in school, the Board of Supervisors is offering $500 to children of welfare recipients – if they earn a high school diploma or GED, and take a course in financial literacy.

The Board unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl authorizing the County’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) to implement an Educational Support Payment (ESP) pilot program.

“We are always supportive of innovative ideas to motivate young people to complete their high school education so that they are better prepared to enter the workforce or matriculate at institutions of higher education,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “The ESP pilot program is an example of outside-the-box thinking when it comes to raising graduation rates among economically disadvantaged young people.”

DPSS administers the State’s CalWORKs welfare program, which gives cash aid and services to some of the County’s most vulnerable families. Only half of adults receiving CalWORKs benefits have a high school diploma or GED. This is a huge barrier to employment, as with more than 85 percent of Americans 25 and older possessing high school diplomas, it has become increasingly difficult for those without diplomas or GEDs to become self-sufficient. The ESP pilot program can help break the cycle of generational poverty and dependency by incentivizing welfare recipients’ children to complete at least their secondary education, which should help them become successful and self-sufficient.

Under the ESP pilot program, 16 to 18-year-old children of CalWORKs participants who graduated from high school or earned a GED in May 2016 and before June 30, 2017 can earn $400 by providing proof of their high school diploma or GED. They can receive an additional $100 by completing a financial literacy course offered through the County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.

The motion also required that surveys be conducted and data be tracked to determine whether offering financial incentives makes a difference in GED/high school graduation rates. The estimated cost for the pilot is $3 million, based on 6,000 teens qualifying for both the $400 graduation payment and the $100 financial literacy class.