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Volunteers Make the Difference

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Veronica Zuniga is the Second District’s Volunteer of the Year (adult category). Here, she poses with her husband at Los Angeles County’s 33rd Annual Volunteer of the Year Awards.

Veronica Zuniga coaches a softball team at Victoria Park in Carson, but she’s doing much more than showing girls how to pitch, catch and throw. She teaches them teamwork, sportsmanship and civic engagement.

Over at Ted Watkins Park, Wanya Barker is doing his own part to help the community by organizing after-school activities for youth like himself, everything from free movie screenings to baseball games.

For all the hours they spend making the Second District a better place to live in, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded each a scroll at the 33rd Annual Volunteer of the Year Awards held in April.DJA_2397

“Veronica and Wanya spend hours every week making our community better,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Their community spirit and can-do attitude is an inspiration to us all.”

Ms. Zuniga, who lives in Compton, has volunteered about 500 hours over the last six years. Twice a week, she coaches 12-14 year old girls, many of whom have never played softball before.

“I have always loved working with children and being involved with the community,” Ms. Zuniga said during a recent banquet honoring some of the county’s most exceptional volunteers. “Being a coach, as well as volunteering with Toastmasters and helping with park events, has helped keep me young and active and helps provide a safe environment for our youth to participate in wholesome activities.”

Mr. Barker, of West Athens, is the teen vice president of Ted Watkins Park’s teen club program. He has volunteered over 200 hours in the past year, helping out with free movie screenings, the Dodger Dream Field dedication, and Parks After Dark and Mark Ridley-Thomas afterschool programs.

More than 100,000 volunteers generously donated more than 4 million hours – an estimated value of $93 million – to Los Angeles County parks, hospitals, senior centers and other facilities and departments in 2014. That’s more than double the numbers from last year.

“I started volunteering because it is something I enjoy doing, plus I loved going to the park and helping the kids and being a part of the Teen Club where I made new friends,” he said. “I just want to thank Ted Watkins Park staff for helping me become a better person.”

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Off Limits to Sexual Harassment

Too many Metro travelers have experienced some form of sexual harassment over the last six months, including unwanted touching, indecent exposure and/or inappropriate comments.  And so, to bring attention to the problem, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has launched a campaign against sexual harassment in the public transit system.

“Metro’s buses, trains and stations are off limits to sexual harassment,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who will take over as chairman of the Metro Board of Directors in July. “Our passengers must be kept safe, not only from hazards on the road but those on board.”

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Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Sheila Kuehl and Michael Antonovich take a stand against sexual harassment in public transit

 

Metro partnered with Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit sexual and domestic violence prevention center, to launch It’s Off Limits, a 30-second public service announcement for television, as well as billboards and posters on buses, trains and stations.

“Perpetrators of sexual crimes often continue their assaults if they are not caught, sometimes becoming bolder and violent,” Peace Over Violence executive director Patti Giggans warned. “Reporting the crime means the assaulter can be caught before he victimizes other women and girls.”

Metro and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department set up a hotline, 1-888-950 SAFE (1-888-950-7233), and updated the smartphone app LA Metro Transit Watch to make it easy for passengers to report incidents they experience or witness during their commute.

Sheriff’s Department’s Transit Policing Chief Ronine Anda urged passengers not to remain silent about sexual harassment.

“Metro is like a moving city with about 400,000 residents on a typical weekday,” she added. “Imagine riding in a place with 400,000 pairs of eyes looking out for their neighbors and cooperating to make conditions as safe as possible.”

The Transit Watch app has a feature allowing passengers to surreptitiously take photos of a suspect without activating their smartphone’s flash. Once a report is filed, complete with a description of the suspect and details of when and where the incident happened, deputies can review footage from video cameras mounted on most buses and trains, and use those as evidence for prosecution.

“If you see it, report it. If you’re experiencing it, report it,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl urged passengers. “With your help, we can do something about this issue.”

Also present at the event were Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Metro board members Ara Najarian and Jacquelyn DuPont-Walker, and Metro interim deputy chief executive officer Stephanie Wiggins.

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Supervisors Approve Audit of Probation

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has asked for a far ranging audit to delve deeper into the Probation Department’s budget, recruitment, hiring and promotional practices. In addition, the audit will look into the effectiveness of programs to rehabilitate youngsters in custody. The audit, which was requested by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael D. Antonovich, was approved unanimously.

Although the U.S. Department of Justice recently ended a six year review of the camps and found that the Probation Department had made reforms to improve conditions for the hundreds of  youngsters currently in custody, the Los Angeles County Auditor–Controller released another report in April that contradicted some of those findings. For instance, the auditor-controller’s report found that none of the camps complied with staff training requirements and 80 percent of the camps did not maintain compliance with child abuse reporting requirements. The audit also found that youths were not always receiving the required substance abuse treatment programs and anger management therapy.

The Supervisors hope that the audit, to be completed by July, will answer some of the discrepancies raised by the previous reports.

“Improvements have been made but the department is not where it ought to be,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “ We need to continue our vigilance to make sure we are doing all we can for these youngsters so they can be rehabilitated and go on to lead productive lives.”

 

Board of Supervisors Approves Funding to Help Trafficked Children

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set aside nearly $7 million to address child sex trafficking as part of the 2015-2016 budget. The funds are expected to be used for sex trafficking prevention initiatives, programs and services including the creation of a specialized court for trafficked children in the foster care system to help stabilize them, provide comprehensive services, such as crisis counseling, educational classes, and advocacy to improve their chances of recovery.

In addition, the Board has asked for recommendations from the Departments of Children and Family Services, Health Services, Mental Health, Probation and Public Social Services on how best to serve children who are trafficked.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not only an international problem, but one also prevalent in Los Angeles. A large percentage of children that have been trafficked have also been in the child welfare system. Currently, children who have been trafficked and arrested are eligible to attend a special court called the STAR Court, or Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience. Among the girls involved with the court, nearly 80 percent had prior contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

“This funding shows our commitment as a board to address the issue of child sex trafficking. We are determined to do whatever we can to help these children escape the life of trauma and exploitation that they have been forced into,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “A specialized court for children in the foster care system is only one component of what we hope will be a comprehensive approach to bringing these children the specialized services and attention that they need.”

“I am very pleased to stand with my colleague Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in opening up the process that will strengthen dependency specialty court programs,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.  “It’s important that we increase the number of attorneys who help children through the court process. We also plan to determine the appropriate solutions needed to support sexually exploited children.”

A dedicated court with a hearing officer, county counsel, child’s attorney, investigators and service providers  specially trained to recognize and understand the serious trauma, stages of change, and unique issues surrounding recovery and high probability of relapse would likely lead to better outcomes for these children.

In addition, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has asked for a report back on how the county can track the magnitude of sexually exploited children within the County of Los Angeles and an assessment of the outcomes of the services rendered to this population including the impact of the STAR Court Program.

Spring Into Summer Hiring Spree Draws Thousands of Job Seekers

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Thousands line up to participate in this year’s Spring Into Summer Hiring Spree

Thousands of job seekers thronged the 5th Annual Spring Into Summer Hiring Spree in Carson on Wednesday.

Starbucks, Best Buy, Sears, JC Penney, Chipotle, See’s Candy, El Pollo Loco, T-Mobile, Goodwill and Jiffy Lube were just a few of the companies seeking applicants at the job fair.

Also hiring were the Los Angeles County Office of Education; the Sheriff, Fire and Probation Departments;  Metropolitan Transportation Authority; the cities of Carson, Long Beach and Torrance; the California Highway Patrol and the FBI.

In all, 95 employers from both the private and public sector and about 2,500 job seekers were on hand for what has been described as one of the largest job fairs in the region this year.

“I believe this is a great opportunity for job seekers, whether they’re looking for entry-level job positions or to change careers and go into a different field,” said Clara Kim, a supervisor with the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s GAIN Division, a welfare-to-work initiative that provides job readiness and career planning services to help welfare recipients achieve gainful employment and self-sufficiency.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas provided funding and other support for the event, held at the Juanita Millender-McDonald Community Center in Carson.

“The Spring Into Summer Hiring Spree can open doors for those who are ready and willing to do what it takes to succeed,” he said.

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Job seekers come face to face with potential employers at the 2015 Spring Into Summer Hiring Spree