Metro Construction Boom Brings Opportunities

Hundreds of jobs and scores of contracts will be available for Los Angeles business owners with the upcoming construction of the Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line and other transit and highway projects. Hopeful consultants, contractors and people looking for employment turned out to the recent Metro sponsored business opportunities summit at the California African American Museum to show off their company resumes and get a foot in the door.

The construction of 12 rail lines, 15 highway projects and 2,000 bus lines, will hopefully ease congestion and pollution in Los Angeles County. But these projects could also be economic engines.

“Metro is revolutionizing this place,” said Metro CEO Arthur Leahy. “And a lot of jobs are being created.”

The Crenshaw-to-LAX rail line, which is scheduled to begin construction next year, will span 8.5 miles from South Los Angeles to the airport. The $2 billion project is seen as a catalyst for the Crenshaw corridor which is expected to see more investment and business development once the Crenshaw line is built.

“Metro is embarking on one of the largest public works programs the nation has seen in years,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is also on the Metro board and was instrumental in getting a stop on the Crenshaw line at Leimert Park. “There is a lot going on and we have an agenda of economic development, small business development and a diversity of opportunity.”

Opportunity is exactly what Erika Bennett is seeking. She is hoping her company, Total Transportation Services Inc., a trucking company that transports cement and dirt to construction sites, will become one of the sub-consultants for the large firm that was awarded the Crenshaw contract, Walsh Shea Corridor Constructors.

“This is a good meet and greet,” she said, as she walked up to the Walsh Shea table and introduced herself to the executives for the company.

Other attendees, such as Matsimela McMorris, were simply looking for a job. McMorris, who has been unemployed for more than a year, applied for a position as a custodian with Metro. But at the event, McMorris saw other possibilities, including becoming a bus operator.

“It is really good to be able to come here and meet people,” he said. “Online, you can’t really tell people your story.”

For more information and job postings:

StoryCorps in LA: Preserving Oral Histories


Cheech Marin of the Grammy award winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong

Dina Zempsky recalls being interviewed by her then 13-year-old son Sam inside the StoryCorps mobile booth at New York City’s Grand Central Station back in 2007. It was also the first time that mother and her middle child had an intimate forty-minute conversation about their family history, about traditions passed on by their elders and recalling early childhood memories that Sam was too young to remember.

“We live in a pretty noisy household – three kids, two cats and a loud dad- we are a loud, boisterous family were people often talk over each other,” said Zempsky, the manager of the StoryCorps Mobile Tour.  “The Storycorps booth gave my son and me the opportunity to have a quiet and focused conversation.”[/raw]

Since its debut in 2005, thousands of Americans have followed Zempsky’s lead into the soundproofed, silver bullet-like trailer to tell their tales and have them live on for anyone to listen to at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

And now StoryCorps has come back to LA, two years after its last visit. The mobile airstream trailer will be parked outside the California African American Museum in Exposition Park  until Nov. 16, and Angelenos are invited to enter and tell their stories.  StoryCorps and KPCC, Los Angeles’ Nation Public Radio station, have partnered together and a selection of local interviews recorded also may air nationally on NPR’s Morning Edition.   The mobile booth has proven so popular that spots are filling up quickly and a reservation is required.

Indeed, since 2003, more than 50,000 interviews across the country have been recorded with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, sharing and preserving the stories of people from all backgrounds and beliefs.

In celebration of StoryCorps 10th Anniversary and the opening day of the trailer at the California African American Museum, civic leaders and entertainers recently took part in the StoryCorps kickoff event.  Among the attendees was third generation Angeleno Cheech Marin of the Grammy award winning comedy duo Cheech and Chong.

Marin recorded his story in the StoryCorps mobile trailer to share his story of growing up in South Central Los Angeles by 30th and Exposition and how growing up in Los Angeles influenced his acting career.

“If you don’t tell your own story someone else will tell your story and it’s better to get it from the horse’s mouth,” said Marin.  “I hope that the recording will inspire kids in the same situation.  I grew up in a low social-economic neighborhood and if I can do it then they can too.”

At the event, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas spoke to the historic significance of preserving America’s history through the stories of its people.  The Supervisor noted that StoryCorps is a modern day incarnation of the Slave Narrative Collection, a project of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration. The collection which was obtained by interviewers who fanned out across the south,  contains over 2,000 interviews with former slaves, including first-hand accounts of being captured in Africa, sold in the United States, plantation life and the world after emancipation as well as the songs that the elderly women and men could remember.

“Those recordings were the seeds for an American folk music renaissance, “said the Chairman. “During the civil rights movement, those songs were a hammer of justice.   So the seeds we plant today, through Story Corps, will no doubt blossom and enrich future generations in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine for centuries to come.”

Reservations can be made by calling StoryCorps’ 24-hour, toll-free reservation line at 1-800-850-4406 or visiting


New Health Center at Washington Prep.

The Wellness Center at Washington Prep

Los Angeles Lakers’ defender Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) brought an exuberant crowd of more than 900 Washington Preparatory High School students to their feet recently as he walked his towering frame to the front of their auditorium and stood behind the podium. As he began speaking,  however, the audience quieted down and sat in rapt attention.  He spoke of life, its challenges and the importance of seeking knowing they are not alone.

“Every morning you should wake up and ask yourself, ‘Am I on the path to reaching my goals?’ If not, you have to ask yourself some questions,” he said. “It is important that you overcome your difficulties.”

The basketball star came to the West Athens high school for a heart to heart talk with students about mental illness. The Lakers’ defender shared how he has persevered through his own hardships, including his parent’s divorce, living in the projects, overcoming depression and anger issues.  Getting help and “having somebody in your court,” is essential, he told the teens. Peace was there to celebrate the opening of the Wellness Center at  Washington Prep High School, an on-campus healthcare facility where students and the community at-large can receive dental, vision, mental  and physical healthcare.
The facility, which will be run in partnership with St. John’s Well Child & Family Center and opens to the public April 26, will also provide assistance with health insurance enrollment. It is one of 12 new school based health centers that have opened in the Second District and a model for the way healthcare can be delivered with schools acting as community hubs.  Opening school based health centers has been a top priority for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who secured more than $300,000 in county funds to help open the Washington Prep Center.  Studies have shown that schools with health centers have higher student attendance and less truancy.

In many neighborhoods and communities throughout the district, chronic health conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma and mental health disorders, are significantly higher than in other parts of the county.  Chairman Ridley-Thomas pledged to expand health care in the district when he took office in 2008, and he has since partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Compton Unified School District and community health clinics to open these centers.

“There is no shame in trying to get help when you are feeling bad,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas to the students. “The wellness center is going to be your resource. We are taking mental health challenges out of the closet. It is hard to succeed when these needs are not addressed.”

With more than 34 percent unemployment in the surrounding Watts/West Athens area and nearly a quarter of the student body in foster care, many Washington Prep students live with stress and may need mental health treatment but either cannot afford it or may feel wary about asking for it.  But at the Wellness Center, Los Angeles Unified School District mental health professionals will offer therapy, mental health consultations for individuals and families, conflict mediation, crisis intervention and psychological first aid in a convenient and confidential way.

Students at Washington Prep

“This connects the school community to much needed resources,” said Washington Prep Principal Todd Ullah. “Mental and physical health are paramount to learning.” Jacqueline Zendejas, a senior at Washington Prep, said she would like to study to become a registered nurse. Instead of missing a whole day of school to get to a doctor or dentist appointment, the center will allow students to take care of themselves in a convenient way, she said.

“I cannot explain the happiness this center will bring,” said Zendejas, who hopes to be accepted into Cal State Monterey Bay. “This will make life a lot better for students and for parents as well.”

Honoring Cesar Chavez with Community Service

Whether it is volunteering to do arts and crafts with kids at a local Boys and Girls  club or cooking and preparing lunch for residents of a family shelter  —  or even volunteering for beach clean-up  —   this week there will be plenty of opportunities to give a “day of service” in honor of  legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez. The state holiday, which is March 31, was created to commemorate Chavez’s legacy of social reform and sacrifice , but organizations throughout Los Angeles County are planning activities this week.

“I can think of no better way for us to honor Cesar Chavez’s memory than to roll up our sleeves and go to work on behalf of our community,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927, Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in the early 1960s to focus on the unjust working conditions suffered by migrant farm workers. Following in Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s footsteps, he worked with the principles of non-violence, organizing strikes and boycotts to make change.

Having worked as a migrant farmer since the age of 10, Chavez knew  how grueling it was to plant and harvest crops, working long hours under the hot sun, with pesticides spraying the workers, few breaks and miserly pay. His efforts to unionize workers who enjoyed minimal protections garnered national attention and soon, he had the support of the Kennedy Administration. In fact, in 1962 he was offered the chance to head up the Peace Corps in Latin America, but he passed and instead re-doubled his efforts to organize a union among farm workers.

For Chavez, a commitment to non-violence and to organizing workers were entwined. In 1966, he led a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento calling on state government to pass laws that would permit farm workers to unionize and allow collective bargaining agreements. In 1968, he went on a water only fast to re-affirm his commitment to non-violence. But it was the 1965 Delano Grape Boycott that perhaps garnered the most attention and that, by 1970, prompted growers to sit down with the workers to hammer out an agreement on working conditions, wages and other needs. Thousands of Americans were asked to boycott table grapes to honor the strike—and they did.

“Cesar used to say his job as an organizer was helping ordinary people do extraordinary things,” said Marc Grossman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and Chavez’ longtime aide. “He showed the farm workers how to win against enormous odds, even if they were poor and uneducated. By helping them believe in themselves, Cesar succeeded where so many others failed for 100 years to organize farm workers.”

In Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Public Library will be hosting  volunteer events in honor of Chavez, as will the Weingart Center, Catholic Charities, the Elizabeth Ann Seton residence family shelter, the Chinatown Service Center and several parks throughout the region.

As Chavez himself said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. The end of all education should surely be service to others.”


Sound Proofing Homes under the LAX Flight Path

Los Angeles International Airport is the third busiest airport in the nation, with nearly 75 air carriers and more than 600-daily flights.

While this is good news for the tourism industry and the regional economy in general, for residents of the Del Aire, Lennox and Athens communities who live directly beneath the LAX flight path, the constant noise from the plane engines is a never ending nuisance.

But soon, many of those residents might get some respite. From now through September 15, 2015, homeowners who meet certain qualifications will be eligible to apply for free insulation of houses and apartment buildings under the County Community Development Commission’s Residential Sound Insulation Program. Sound insulation improvements include the installation of new windows, exterior doors, attic insulation, vents, electrical panel upgrades, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems.

In order to qualify, homes must be located in a designated 65 decibel noise level within the communities of Athens, Del Aire, and Lennox, as determined by the Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles World Airports. The CDC estimates that approximately 6,200 homes are eligible for the soundproofing program, with an estimated value of $27,000 to $32,000 per home. It is free of charge to homeowners and although administered by the county, is fully funded by the Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles World Airports. To date, the CDC has soundproofed 2,200 homes.

“Our goal is to ensure that every resident in these communities is aware of the program so that they may apply for the program while funds remain available,” said Cordé Carrillo, director of the CDC’s Economic and Housing Development Division

When Athens resident Jeriel Womack, 55,heard about the program, she called the CDC to find out if her home qualified — within seven months, her three-bedroom home was soundproofed.

“The noise would wake me up in the morning and keep me up at night,” said Womack. “I now have a new window, a sliding door, heating and air condition system. I am completely satisfied with the improvements to my home. Not only do I no longer have to hear the noise from the planes, I now no longer hear the cars speeding up and down the street, the dogs barking, the fire tucks or the police sirens.”

Womack was so impressed with the service and the quality she received, and the short time that it took to install the new soundproofing products, that she told her neighbors about the program, several of whom also have received sound proofing products in their homes.

“The airport is a vital economic engine for the entire Southern California region, but it is essential that we be sensitive to the needs of residents in the communities and neighborhoods adjacent to LAX,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This soundproofing program is meeting a long-sought need in these communities and already it has begun to improve the quality of life for residents. Now we have to get the word out so as many people as possible take advantage of these remedies.”

For more information, please contact the Community Development Commission at: (626) 586-1840.