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County Leaders Statewide Honor Supervisor Ridley-Thomas

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was honored with the President’s Award at the 126th Annual Meeting of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), an organization that is considered the voice of California’s 58 counties at the state and federal level.

“Supervisor Ridley-Thomas embodies the essence of tenacious leadership,” said CSAC President and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett. “When he speaks, people listen… in Los Angeles, California, and across the nation.”

“He went above and beyond in his efforts to ensure our collective County voices were heard in Sacramento and we had a seat at the table on key initiatives that impacted all Counties,” she continued. “Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has been a dear friend and mentor and I am deeply grateful for his leadership, expertise and willingness to foster the potential he sees in others.”

“Thank you very kindly for this honor,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “I wish CSAC nothing but the best as it navigates the policy agenda for the State of California and sets an example for the rest of the nation. It’s important that we view our work through an equity lens if we are to fulfill the promise of democracy for all.”

“I’ve learned a lot over the years I’ve had the opportunity to serve on  CSAC’s executive committee, and I’ve benefited from the fellowship and camaraderie as well,” he added. “Though I’m joining the ranks of city service, that will not in any way diminish my commitment to counties: once a Supervisor, always a Supervisor. It’s just that simple.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has served his community for more than 30 years, including as Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and terms in the Los Angeles City Council, California Assembly and California State Senate.

He has been an active member of CSAC’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors, and also served Counties as the co-chair of Governor Newsom’s Council of Regional Homeless Advisors and chair of CSAC’s Homelessness Action Team.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who is on his third and final term at the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, recently won election back to the Los Angeles City Council, where he will represent the 10th District.

CSAC President and Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in a file photo.

$1 Million Grant for BioFutures Program

BioscienceLA recently announced the launch of its BioFutures Program with a $1 million grant from LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to grow opportunities for underrepresented students in the life sciences industry.

“BioscienceLA’s mission is to place the LA life sciences ecosystem at the forefront of global innovation,” Ridley-Thomas said. “BioFutures is building relationships with local community colleges, growing employers, and established companies like Amgen, with the aim to create hundreds of opportunities over the coming years.”

BioFutures is a competitive program to connect students from underrepresented backgrounds with internships and career development programming.

“Our mission relies on our commitment to enabling diversity, amplifying science, and accelerating collaboration,” BioscienceLA CEO Dave Whelan said. “We strongly believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion must be reflected in the training, recruitment, and retention strategies of all stakeholders.”

“Eight LA community colleges currently offer training for internships and employment in bioscience, in addition to preparation in biology and chemistry for transfer degrees,” shares Wendie Johnson, Lab Director at Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator. “BioFutures is an impressive opportunity for nontraditional students who might not have the same access to getting their foot in the door and starting their career in life sciences.”

Interns will gain further insight into the LA life sciences ecosystem, via subsidized internships at local companies (including biotech, medtech, and digital health, in both technical and non-technical roles), industry mentorship and networking opportunities, and an alumni program.

“We moved to LA because, in recent years, it has become a hub for the future of healthcare,” said Jo Bhakdi, CEO of Quantgene, a biotech that relocated to Santa Monica from the Bay Area. “A large piece of this comes from the diverse and innovative minds that have gathered in this area. As an international company with a multicultural background, we recognize the importance of a program like BioFutures, not just in strengthening individual companies like ours, but the whole LA ecosystem at large.”

“Our program focuses on exposing students to local life science companies, while growing a more diverse recruitment pipeline from which companies can source talent,” Whelan explains. “Every internship funded is not just an investment in the student themselves, but also in the student’s school and in the hiring company.”

“This is just the start,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I would like to challenge companies and funders in LA to step up to support this program with me.”

Statement on Spike in COVID-19 Cases

As we head into our ninth month of this pandemic – no one should think this is business as usual. We are seeing increases across all COVID-19 metrics including the number of cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations.

If COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations remain high or continue to increase, we must consider additional measures to slow the spread and put the public’s health first. While we must not jump to any conclusions before the Board of Supervisors has had time to fully consider all options and listen to input from the public, I trust we will also be prioritizing the need to safely keep the economy open. We must also look for structural ways to remind everyone that the safest place to be right now is at home. Potential options could include instituting a curfew, so businesses do not have to close again, but would instead have limited hours for essential activities.

Younger people continue to drive the increase in community transmission in Los Angeles County. Residents between the ages of 30- and 49-years-old represent 34% of new cases, followed by residents between the ages of 18- and 29-years-old who comprise 27% of all new cases. While young people may not be hospitalized at the same rates as older members of our communities, they have the potential to spread the virus to those most at risk. The rise in cases also complicates planning for increasing the numbers of students returning to schools, further re-opening additional sectors, and permitting additional activities.

Many are understandably frustrated, especially as the holidays approach, as people feel strongly about maintaining the tradition to be around friends and family. Additionally, with the onset of cold weather, it becomes difficult to hold events outdoors. However, it is imperative that we remain patient, stay safe, and continue to put the health of our families and our communities first.

We must never lose sight of the extremely vulnerable Angelenos experiencing homelessness as the pandemic worsens during the flu season. They must not be an afterthought when it comes to protecting our communities. Our homeless residents will be hardest hit, and the pandemic poses additional obstacles and challenges to the County’s initiative to immediately bring everyone in.

We have all taken great efforts and made sacrifices to protect the health and safety of our loved ones and our neighbors—housed and unhoused—and this is the time to keep pushing on and be resilient. We must not give up.

Wellbeing During COVID-19, Just a Phone Call Away

Alejandra Vargas, 2nd-Year UCLA MSW Intern for the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line.

While the pandemic has sharpened our individual focus on our physical health, the crisis within the crisis—the pandemic and calls for social and racial justice amid a recent election—have exacerbated the mental health and wellbeing of many. To put it into perspective, research has indicated that loneliness and extended social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity. 

Recognizing the impact of such challenging circumstances on mental health and wellbeing, Los Angeles County recently launched the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line for its employees to offer support, information, and connection to resources as needed—and of course, confidentially to maintain the privacy of callers. Individuals seeking help will be connected to a mental health and wellbeing helpline specialist who is there to offer support through the most difficult of moments.  

Meet Alejandra Vargas, 2nd-Year UCLA MSW Intern, one of the helpline specialists who have been serving the wellness needs of the employees of Los Angeles County.  

Alejandra has been working in the mental health field for 7 years. Her introduction to mental health began as she was completing her bachelor’s degree in Latin American/Latinx Studies. But it wasn’t until she stepped into her role managing a suicide prevention hotline in California’s Central Coast, Alejandra knew she found her niche.  

“A typical day on the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line is one where I am prepared to both provide emotional support and critical resources to LA County employee community members,” said Alejandra. “During calls, I lean in and listen attentively to what our callers are sharing. I can’t rely on body language and movement to connect, so creatively connecting with callers through active listening while being able to hold their experience in a non-judgmental but supportive way is my typical goal.” 

Alejandra participates in this space of support and care to civil servants and other providers seeking to build resiliency and bear witness to much of the hurt that is happening behind closed doors, especially since so many are confined to their homes more than ever before. In bringing resources and relief to callers, the wellbeing helpline specialists are healing and continuing to build community under these isolating circumstances.      

Alejandra’s support is timely and necessary as Angelenos head into a holiday season under the constraints of the pandemic that limit or prevent gatherings entirely in an effort to curb the pandemic’s spread in the winter months.  

Her selflessness to help others is deeply heartfelt and comes from a place of true empathy, as Alejandra has faced her own trials. “As a cancer survivor, being of service in this moment of uncertainty is a personally meaningful undertaking. I have had to sit in the unknown since my diagnosis, so it is a place I know well. And while these are different circumstances, it is a familiar feeling and my source of resiliency that I can pass along to others who I now share this space with,” she said.  

When faced with crisis, continued connection from dedicated staff like Alejandra is not only improving lives—it’s saving them. These impactful conversations are integral to helping individuals cope with incredibly sudden, drastic change.  

“There is a moment in a call—that very initial moment where sometimes a person is hesitant to really open up—and when you provide that person with the space where they can be vulnerable, it shifts. I recognize that vulnerability as a step and action towards courage, and it’s in every single call. There’s a little bit of hesitancy and then they open up. It’s in that one key moment where I know that I’ve provided, or started to provide, that space where a person can tear down those walls and tear down the stigma for themselves just by providing this space,” says Alejandra in describing what drives her to help callers in need.  

The Second District would like to extend special thanks and recognition to Alejandra Vargas and all who support the wellbeing helpline in this unprecedented moment of heightened stress. 


Wishing a Happy Veterans Day to Our Heroes

I want to wish those who have served, a Happy Veterans Day.

Today we express our profound gratitude for the sacrifices and contributions you and your family have made at home and at outposts around the world.  But our gratitude is not just for what you have done in active service. It is grounded in an appreciation of the example that you continue to set after your service has ended.

Thank you to all for what you have done to serve our nation and protect democracy.  May God bless you and keep you!