Spring Into Love

VIDEO CREDIT: Krissy Leahy, Nelson Melgar and the Spring Into Love Youth Advisory Council

Hundreds of high school students from across south and east Los Angeles will gather downtown Thursday to get smart about their sexual health – and have fun while learning.

Organized with the help of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Spring Into Love is a youth summit featuring music, food, games and prizes, all coinciding with workshops where teens can hang out with fellow teens to discuss healthy relationships, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and other topics.

Krissy Leahy, who helps run Spring Into Love’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC) and the nonprofit Black Women for Wellness’ “Get Smart Before You Get Sexy” program, said peer-led education can be very effective.

“I think it’s important that adults also participate, but youths know each other’s experiences a bit more in-depth,” she said. “They’re also more relatable, and more willing to step into vulnerability when questions are posed about sex, sexuality and relationships.”

Sixteen-year-old Jathan Melendez, with the YAC, promised a fun but purposeful event to help diminish the stigma surrounding sexual health.

“We’re trying to find a fun way to bring youth my age into a space where they can learn about sexual health through workshops, booths, plays and skits,” Melendez said. “This way, we’re informing them about sexual health while keeping them laughing at the same time.”

Eighteen-year-old Alfonso Aguilar, also with the YAC, added, “It’s actually a fun environment where youths can meet new people whose stories they can relate to, and who may be going through the same things they are.”

An estimated 250 participants are expected to attend the event at the California Endowment. It’s free but registration is necessary.

In Los Angeles County, the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are among African American and Latino adolescents in South LA. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two common sexually transmitted diseases that don’t always manifest symptoms but can eventually cause pain, as well as serious problems during pregnancy. It may even make it impossible to have children and make it easier to contract and spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Among those expected to attend will be students at local high schools, such as Locke, Fremont, Manual Arts and Jordan, but walk-ins are also welcome. In between workshops, they can enjoy music played by a deejay with 94.7 The Wave FM, and win prizes such a movie tickets, dinner date packages, designer T-shirts, and tickets to an LA Sparks game.

There will also be a recording studio and photo booth on site, as well as a do-it-yourself mural. The youths are encouraged to unleash their creativity and let their voices be heard.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stressed the importance of helping youths take charge of their sexual health. “These matters are usually taboo but reaching out to youths, educating them about staying healthy, and providing them with the help they need to heal benefits the entire community,” he said.

Aguilar has been a part of Spring Into Love over the three years that the event has been held, in part because of the alarming statistics about chlamydia and gonorrhea in his neighborhood.

“I wanted to do my best to be able to spread the word about staying healthy,” Aguilar said. “I want to help out those youth who feel they don’t have anyone to talk to.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 5.54.08 PM

Kenneth Simril Named to New Board

Mr  Kenneth SimrilKenneth Simril, President and CEO of Fleischmann’s Ingredients, has been selected to join the Board of Investments, which advises the county on investments for the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

Mr. Simril, who was appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, brings more than two decades of financial planning and management experience to the nine member Board which also includes the L.A. County Treasure as well as current and retired members of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association.

“Kenneth brings a wealth of financial management to this Board,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.  “I’m confident his expertise will benefit the county employee retirement association in maximizing funds for county employees.”

Mr. Simril says he looks forward to enhancing the county’s investments, addressing the County’s liabilities and positioning the Board to become more engaged on policy matters affecting employee pension plans.

 “In addition to determining LACERA’s investment objectives, strategies and policies, it’s critical as part of our fiduciary responsibility that the Board of Investments safeguards LACERA’s assets for long-term growth so that we can provide the promised benefits to our members and beneficiaries,” Simril said. “Our role is important as stewards of change, constantly evaluating and re-assessing market conditions so that we can capitalize on new investment methods or opportunities to enhance investment returns.”

Mr. Simril has served on the Board of the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System.   He is a graduate of Harvard Business School where he received his MBA and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from the University of Southern California.

Bringing Affordable Housing to Transportation Hubs

ThinkstockPhotos-478018919On Thursday, The Metro Board of Directors approved a landmark proposal to set aside 35 percent of all apartments and condos built on land owned by Metro for affordable housing.  This initiative, co-authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Eric Garcetti, and unanimously adopted by the Board Thursday, marks the first time that Metro will offer its land at below-market cost for projects to accommodate affordable housing.

Metro will also look into contributing $10 million to attract public and private partnerships to establish a $70 million fund to build affordable housing. This is part of a larger initiative spearheaded by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to create affordable housing, commercial and residential developments on county-owned real estate along major public transportation lines.

 “A disproportionate number of residents in my district live in overcrowded conditions and spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Low income households are more dependent on public transportation and represent the vast majority of riders on the Metro system. This initiative means good business for Metro and it is also the right thing to do.”

In addition to the Metro housing initiative, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has led efforts to use Los Angeles County and Metro assets to address economic development and housing needs.

Available properties owned by the County of Los Angeles and Metro could bring up to 500,000 square feet of potential new development into the marketplace. Together they include a 4-acre parcel of land on Exposition Boulevard in Los Angeles at the intersection of the Crenshaw/LAX and Expo Lines, as well as a 40,000-square-foot property on Redondo Boulevard in Inglewood which is also adjacent to the Crenshaw/LAX line. These properties can be used for mixed commercial and residential use near transit hubs.

The $2-billion Crenshaw/LAX Rail Line, which is projected to serve thousands of commuters by 2019, is funded through Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2008. The 8.5-mile train route would run through the historic Crenshaw Corridor, known as the epicenter of African-American culture in Los Angeles. It is projected to have a daily ridership of 13,000 to 16,000 once completed in 2019. Plans are already in place to build a major retail center with a Target store, a new Kaiser medical facility, and a revitalized Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza next to the rail line.

Healthcare Reform: An Anniversary and A Call for Vigilance

Health Access’ Affordable Care Act 5th Anniversary CelebrationSupervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined healthcare advocates Tuesday in marking the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act with celebration and a call for vigilance.

He warned opponents remain determined to undo President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, which has given more Americans access to affordable and high-quality health insurance than ever before.

“This should be a time when we are celebrating but, in reality, the Affordable Care Act is under attack,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said in a news conference at Planned Parenthood.

Signed into law on March 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, expands the affordability, quality, and availability of private and public health insurance through consumer protections, regulations, subsidies, taxes, insurance exchanges and other reforms.

The Supreme Court upheld the ACA on June 28, 2012. However, a new legal challenge – “King V Burwell” – could block certain states from receiving the ACA subsidies that make healthcare affordable, resulting in millions of Americans becoming uninsured.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans who have already failed more than 50 times to repeal the ACA are now proposing a federal budget for 2016 that would not only repeal the law but also partly privatize Medicare and slash Medicaid funding.

Health Access’ Affordable Care Act 5th Anniversary Celebration

“If these cuts take place, they would have huge potential impacts to the county,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We have to work hard to make sure this doesn’t become a reality because the people I represent and those in the rest of LA County need health care coverage.”

Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles vice president of public affairs Celinda Vazquez hailed the ACA as “one of the greatest health care advancements in our era – and the single biggest advancement for women’s health in generations.”

She noted, however, that California’s reimbursement rates for providers who treat MediCal patients ranks 49th in the nation. “Unless we have enough providers willing and able to care for these newly-insured people, we will not be able to realize the full potential of the ACA,” Ms. Vasquez said.

Thanks to the ACA, more than 60 percent of previously uninsured adults in California have healthcare coverage as of July 2014.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said the county is working to have the remainder obtain coverage under the program My Health LA, in collaboration with the Community Clinic Association and a network of advocacy and consumer groups. He also wants to expand school-based health clinics.

Health Access’ Affordable Care Act 5th Anniversary Celebration

Finding Harmony on the Other Side of the World

FullSizeRender (3)

Students with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles rehearse music for their Japan tour. Credit: Rebecca Sigel.

Their bags packed with flutes, violas and other instruments, several teenagers from Los Angeles County’s Second District are venturing far away from home Tuesday to make music – and to make friends – in Japan.

All are students of Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA), a program led by Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel to provide free musical training, instruments and academic support to those ages 6-17 who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.

Bianca, a 16-year old violinist with YOLA at EXPO, based at Exposition Park in South Los Angeles, is eager to harmonize with fellow musicians her age from the other side of the world.

“Music has the ability to transcend barriers in order to bring together people of all different socio-economic backgrounds,” she said.

Kevin, a 13-year-old who plays the tuba, is eager to broaden his horizons while honing his musical skills at YOLA at HOLA, the nonprofit organization Heart of Los Angeles in the Rampart District. 

 “YOLA… not only  gave me important life skills that helped me, but also helped me befriend people that I might not have even realized existed on this planet,” he said.

YOLA students prepared for their tour by learning about Japanese culture, including the traditional tea ceremony. Credit: Rebecca Sigel

YOLA students prepared for their tour by learning about Japanese culture, including the traditional tea ceremony. Credit: Rebecca Sigel

Bianca and Kevin are among 15 YOLA students ages 13-17 who are off to Tokyo and Soma in the Fukushima Prefecture to meet young Japanese musicians training with El Sistema Japan, which is based on the famous  musical education program in Venezuela where Mr. Dudamel trained as a child.

YOLA Manager Rebecca Sigel believes the American and Japanese teenagers will find common ground not only in the music they play, but also in their coming-of-age struggles and triumphs.

She said many of the Japanese students began to play instruments in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that devastated their coastal city. As a tribute to them, YOLA will perform Mozart’s Ave Veram Corpus, which Sigel described as “a piece about creating something beautiful in the aftermath of loss.” She added it was El Sistema Japan’s unofficial anthem. 

“Our students have struggles and successes here in Los Angeles – for some, there are more struggles than successes – but that’s going to be the case for students in Fukushima too, only in a completely different context,” Sigel said. “The music is going to be the thing that joins them.”

The trip will be held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Asia Tour. Mr. Dudamel will rehearse with the students on Sunday.

YOLA students made paper cranes as a gift for their Japanese hosts. Credit: Rebecca Sigel

Aside from rehearsals and concerts, the itinerary for the YOLA students’ almost week-long visit to Japan includes cultural exchanges and sightseeing tours. To prepare for their 8,000-mile journey, they visited Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles to learn about Japanese culture, customs and traditions, including the tea ceremony and origami.

The students made  paper cranes that they will string together and give as gifts to their hosts in Japan as a symbol of happiness, peace and long life. But Daniel, a 17-year-old flutist with YOLA at EXPO, believes the tour itself is a gift.

“What YOLA has taught me is that young people everywhere are ready to explode with a creative potential that they might not even know is in them,” Daniel said. “By giving them something into which to channel that magma of creativity out of their cores, you can unleash an ambition-chasing initiative from within that will carry them far in life.”

YOLA currently trains about 600 students in three locations: YOLA, HOLA and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Those bound for Japan underwent a rigorous selection process similar to a college application. YOLA previously sent delegations to Boston, where students met the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and to London, where they performed Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture.

YOLA students rehearsing the music they will perform in Japan, which includes Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. Credit: Rebecca SigelYOLA students rehearsing the music they will perform in Japan, which includes Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus. Credit: Rebecca Sigel