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Meet the 2017 Irvine Leadership Awards Recipients

It’s a pleasure, especially in these unusual times, to share hopeful and inspiring news. I’m proud to announce the recipients of the 2017 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards.

These impressive individuals and their organizations give us tremendous hope in times that call for creative, common-sense solutions. They inspire us with their service and unwavering commitment to vulnerable communities. They remove barriers that lift us all.

Each one is fighting to ensure that all Californians have the access and opportunity to thrive — whether to start a small business, to receive a quality education, access care or legal counsel, or to be treated with dignity and respect.

I hope you will take the time to learn more about each of these leaders. I’m sure you, like our Leadership Awards Selection Committee, will find their work uplifting.

And if you know a leader (or leaders) putting an innovative solution to work for the people of California, consider nominating them for the 2018 Leadership Awards.

The 2017 recipients are:

Ken Berrick, Seneca Family of Agencies

Ken champions a concept called Unconditional Education, which supports vulnerable students, including those with trauma and learning disabilities. Seneca Family of Agencies, which he founded and leads, helps schools coordinate resources and interventions that help struggling students stay on track, instead of of isolating — or expelling — them. The approach has produced higher language and math scores as well as fewer expulsions and disciplinary actions.

Tony Brown, Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA)

Through HOLA, Tony has brought high-quality after-school programs to students in Central and South Los Angeles, 97 percent of whom live in poverty. Tony has built partnerships with world-class organizations in the arts, athletics, and college prep that speak to students’ passions, spark their creativity, and make them more engaged in school itself. Through Tony’s leadership, HOLA has grown to serve 2,300 students every year — inspiring academic achievement and success that is strengthening families and communities.

Areva Martin, Special Needs Network, Inc.

Areva realized firsthand how difficult it was to secure a diagnoses and then therapy for an autistic child. She now empowers the families of children with autism in underserved communities to access the care and resources available to them by law. Her organization, the Special Needs Network, has supported more than 500 parents with the training and resources needed to advocate for their children, and advanced policy reforms that have provided access to vital therapies for more than 83,000 children.

Doniece Sandoval, Lava Mae

Doniece is former marketing executive who was moved to do something about California’s homelessness crisis. She turned retired city buses into mobile hygiene units that offer showers, services, and dignity to people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Venice. Her organization, Lava Mae, has provided more than 15,000 showers and its brand of “radical hospitality” to more than 3,000 people experiencing homelessness, affirming the importance of compassion and a respect for human dignity in how we address homelessness.

Dora Westerlund, Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation

Through her leadership of the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, Dora has successfully launched dozens of new entrepreneurs in the San Joaquin Valley, offering business services, loans, and expertise in a region facing higher than average unemployment. She started the first bilingual Business Incubator on the West Coast, resulting in 80 new businesses, the creation or retention of 12,000 jobs, and $200 million in economic impact.

Julia Wilson, OneJustice

Julia is addressing disparities in access to legal aid in rural California through innovative solutions like a ‘Justice Bus,’ which brings volunteer lawyers from cities to legal clinics in underserved regions, expanding the work of legal aid nonprofits. Her organization, OneJustice, has deployed more than 3,000 volunteer attorneys, providing mobile legal aid to remove barriers for low-income, rural Californians on everything from immigration procedures to criminal justice to veterans benefits.

We applaud the innovations and impact of these leaders, and look forward to finding and recognizing others like them in the years to come.