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Press Release

The James Irvine Foundation Awards $1.25 Million to Innovative Leaders of Five California Nonprofits

February 11, 2019

Kimberly Johnson,
Senior Communications Officer

2019 Awards mark the first time all recipients are women, and award amount increases to $250,000 each

SAN FRANCISCO (February 11, 2019) — The James Irvine Foundation today announced the recipients of its 2019 Leadership Awards, recognizing leaders at five organizations for advancing solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing California: homelessness, youth development, health care, and aging. For the first time in its 14-year history, the Award recipients are all women.

Each year, The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards recognize innovative, effective leaders whose breakthrough solutions to critical state challenges improve people’s lives, create opportunity, and contribute to a better California. The Foundation provides each recipient’s organization with a grant (now increased to $250‚000 each) to support work that benefits the people of California and merits expansion, replication, or policy support. Irvine also helps recipients share their approaches with policymakers and practitioners.


The 2019 award recipients (see more information below) are:

  • Sherilyn Adams, Executive Director, Larkin Street Youth Services, for providing youth housing, opportunity, and hope to reach their full potential (San Francisco)
  • Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO, Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital, for defining excellence and equity in healthcare (Los Angeles)
  • Eunice Lin Nichols, Vice President,, and director of its Generation to Generation campaign, for harnessing the skills and experience of older Americans to create a better future for future generations (San Francisco)
  • Eileen Richardson, CEO, Downtown Streets Team, for ending homelessness through community, teamwork, and dignity (San Jose)
  • Yammilette G. Rodriguez, Senior Director, Youth Leadership Institute, for empowering youth as policy advocates and future leaders (Fresno)

“We are heartened and inspired by the work of these innovative Californians,” said Don Howard, President and Chief Executive Officer of The James Irvine Foundation. “California’s challenges can sometimes seem insurmountable, so it’s an honor to celebrate these exemplary leaders and elevate the solutions that are improving lives across the state.”

Howard and representatives of the Foundation will join California policymakers, Leadership Award recipient alumni, and others to honor the award recipients at a reception in Sacramento on February 11. Photos and video of the recipients are available here.

For example, later today California State Senator Scott Wiener will make remarks at one of the Sacramento events where award recipients will be recognized.

“I applaud the James Irvine Foundation for recognizing innovative leaders making an impact in my district and throughout the state,” said Senator Wiener. “The 2019 Leadership Award recipients are creating better opportunities and outcomes for Californians across our state, and we can all find inspiration and lessons in their approaches.”

The Irvine Foundation has honored more than 90 Californians with Leadership Awards since the program began in 2006. Award recipients are chosen by an independent selection committee that reviews nominations based on several criteria, including the significance, effectiveness, and innovation of the leader’s work.

More detail about the work of this year’s recipients is below. To learn more, please visit:

Sherilyn AdamsLarkin Street Youth Services
Raised in public housing, Sherilyn Adams was impacted by family violence, mental illness, and substance abuse from an early age. Her experiences drove her passion to end homelessness. Now at Larkin Street Youth Services, Adams is committed to ensuring that youth’s voices are heard and that lawmakers understand the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco and across the state. The nonprofit offers comprehensive support systems (drop-in services, emergency shelter, transitional housing) and youth leadership development. Larkin Street has served more than 75,000 youth and provides two-thirds of all available housing for youth homeless in San Francisco. More than 80 percent of young people who complete their programs exit to stable housing, and nearly 90 percent were employed or enrolled in higher education.

Dr. Elaine BatchlorMartin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital
The 2007 failure of South LA’s sole public hospital was yet another example of leaders failing a community that experiences many disparities. Coronary heart disease and stroke mortality rates are 30-percent higher than in the county overall, and the median individual income is half the state average. Dr. Elaine Batchlor has led an effort to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH), a private, state-of-the-art hospital that opened in 2015. Thanks to her commitment to a hospital-wide culture of innovation and excellence, MLKCH provides quality care comparable to hospitals in more affluent communities, transforming the health of the residents of South LA. MLKCH is one of only 6.4 percent of U.S. hospitals to achieve the highest level of recognition for use of electronic health information, and it ranks among the top 10 percent for patient satisfaction nationwide.

Eunice Lin
This year marks the first time that there are more people in America over age 60 than under age 18. California’s own aging population is set to grow 87 percent in the next two decades, and many fear the consequences. Inspired by her personal experience – and 20 years working in the field – Eunice Lin Nichols helps organizations and governments leverage this experienced population as an asset to young people and our state. Nichols leads’s Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) campaign to engage 1 million adults over 50 in the lives of young people — building bridges across differences of age, race, and income; improving life for older and younger generations; and creating a better future for all. More than 215 partner organizations throughout California and the nation have joined Gen2Gen’s campaign to positively impact lives. For example, FIRST 5 Santa Clara County is expanding its use of older volunteers from six family resource centers to all 27. Soon, 200 older volunteers there will help 650 young children thrive.

Eileen RichardsonDowntown Streets Team
On any given night, 130,000 Californians are homeless. When Eileen Richardson, the former CEO of Napster, took a break from the tech industry and volunteered at a local food bank, she saw individuals experiencing homelessness often losing their sense of dignity while living on the street. Guided by the principle that everyone can become a proud, productive member of their community, Richardson created Downtown Streets Team (DST). Participants experiencing homelessness volunteer up to 20 hours a week to clean streets in return for case management, job training, employment services, and stipends to transition from homelessness to permanent housing. This approach renews dignity and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. The organization serves more than 1,000 individuals across a dozen California cities, and nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) graduates from DST’s work experience program retain employment for 90 days or more.

Yammilette G. RodriguezYouth Leadership Institute
The growing number of young people in the Central Valley are full of ideas and promise, but they are often overlooked as adults make decisions. They also face unique obstacles: higher-than-average rates of drug and alcohol abuse, lower-than-average college readiness, and more. Yammilette G. Rodriguez, the daughter of immigrants and inspired by her mentors from her youth, recognized the need to invest in young people to inform policies that could affect their lives. At Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), Rodriguez empowers underrepresented youth to advocate for the needs of their community, equips them with tools to become civically engaged, and provides a platform for youth to engage directly with elected officials. The organization works collaboratively with more than 2,000 high school students statewide each year and has achieved more than 120 policy victories, including successfully advocating for Fresno Unified to become a Sanctuary School District.

About The James Irvine Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California. The Foundation’s current focus is a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided more than $1.87 billion in grants to organizations throughout California. With about $2.3 billion in assets, the Foundation made grants of $95.9 million in 2018. For more information about the Irvine Foundation, please visit our website at