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Mayor Villaraigosa Launches ‘We Serve L.A.’

Emily Frost |
September 20, 2010 | 2:13 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Rafael Gonzalez, L.A.'s Chief Service Officer, and Mayor Villaraigosa announce plans for 'We Serve L.A,' the city's new service initiative. (Emily Frost)
Rafael Gonzalez, L.A.'s Chief Service Officer, and Mayor Villaraigosa announce plans for 'We Serve L.A,' the city's new service initiative. (Emily Frost)
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa kicked off a major volunteerism initiative Monday that aims to increase volunteerism and connect volunteers with civic partners.

“Our goal is simple,” Villaraigosa said in a speech at George Washington Carver Middle School in South L.A. “We’re going to engage more Angelinos in meaningful service activities; we’re going to utilize volunteerism and service as a strategy to tackle critical local challenges.”

The initiative, called "We Serve L.A.," will focus on improvements in three key areas: education, economic development and the environment. The program will have four specific projects: decreasing the dropout rate through mentorship programs, increasing access to family source centers for low-income families, continuing to clean up the L.A. River and building community gardens.

Villaraigosa was joined on Tuesday by LAUSD School Board President Monica Garcia, representatives from the Corporation of National and Community ServiceCalifornia Volunteers, City Year, AmeriCorps, the L.A. Neighborhood Land Trust, the River Keepers, the Derby Girls, and other service groups and nonprofits.

Garcia was enthusiastic about the program:

“Not only will Carver [Middle School] get a community garden – because community gardens are fabulous and kids love ‘em – but this Friday, the city and the district are partnering on the Student Recovery Day, where hundreds of people will go out and knock on doors and say ‘we care about you, why aren’t you in school?’”

Jazz Cabezas, a member of City Year, a program that places volunteers in urban environments, said that she chose to serve because she “didn’t have a mentor growing up” and recognizes how important mentors are in keeping students motivated in school.

“Today means hope," she said Monday. "It’s the start of something new."

The initiative is part of the nationwide Cities of Service program, which provides grants for cities to expand their volunteerism programs.

L.A. is one of ten cities receiving a Cities of Service Leadership Grant, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The grant given to L.A. provides $200,000 over two years to fund a Chief Service Officer, who will manage the service goals and implement partnerships.

“For many, many years, volunteerism has not been respected on that level and we’re here to change that,” said Rafael Gonzalez, L.A.'s chief service officer.

One of Gonzalez's goals is to set up a database and website that will better connect volunteers with projects needing help. Gonzalez said he expects the database to be operational by the end of this year.

Gonzalez said he is modeling L.A.'s service program after New York's. Staff from NYC Service advised Gonzalez to “start small” and not feel like you had to “put together a slew of initiatives,” he said. The key is being able to measure and appreciate the quality and impact of the work, he added. Gonzalez hopes to bring in more than 100,000 new volunteers in a year.

Though New York is his model, Gonzalez plans to give the initiative “local flavor,” he said, by “making sure the campaign touches everyone…all colors and sizes” by engaging groups and communities across L.A.


Reach reporter Emily Frost here.

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