As head of one of the country’s oldest community foundations, I have seen many dedicated families, immigrants and entrepreneurs work hard to succeed in Los Angeles County. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I believe that realizing the promise of the American Dream is not a question of policy or government spending alone, nor is it the responsibility of any single individual, company or school.
“Business as usual” is no longer workable or acceptable. Rather, solving some of our greatest challenges – including providing education and opportunity for all – starts with local residents coming together and taking innovative action to ensure that every member of the community has a chance to succeed. Simply put, it is time for new ways of investing in our communities.
Consider recent initiative Rework America. Convened by the Markle Foundation, the initiative has brought together a diverse group of business leaders, educators, policymakers and advocates to expand opportunities for all Americans. Working with local communities, the initiative launched Rework America Connected, a partnership with LinkedIn, Arizona State University, edX as well as local and state educators and employers to build a skills-based labor market.
By working alongside local companies to redefine job descriptions by skill sets, rather than degrees, and by providing individuals with the resources and tools needed to qualify, the program will connect job seekers to middle skill jobs and career opportunities, including the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have a college diploma. In turn, employers will have a talented pipeline of workers to hire for available jobs. This type of transparent, accessible and mutually beneficial support is vital to reconnecting Americans to meaningful career paths and revitalizing America’s economy.
In the county, we are working in small but powerful ways to achieve this. Similar programs here combine local collaboration, civic engagement and interpersonal support with new technologies to help close our skills gap and improve health outcomes.
We know that California faces a shortage of 1.1 million college graduates by 2030, at which time we will have quality jobs, but a lack of skilled workers to fill them. Through its Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow initiative, the California Community Foundation supports a program called Urban Teens Exploring Technology, or Urban TXT. It works with 100 low-income young men of color each year to teach them how to code computer languages and apps for social change. Not only are at-risk students preparing for future jobs in the tech world, they are also developing solutions to community issues as well as learning skills such as collaboration, leadership, self-confidence, project management and communication to excel in the workforce of tomorrow.
We also know that when residents are healthy, they are more productive and can contribute positively to society. Young Invincibles is a national nonprofit organization that has created a free smartphone application to provide education on health care issues to young adults in Los Angeles. Specifically targeting the Centinela Valley – an underserved area southwest of downtown Los Angeles – the app helps millennials find a doctor, get answers from experts and learn how to obtain insurance.
In addition, at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA, the department of pediatrics is testing telehealth models to deliver developmental, behavioral and mental health services to children in low-income urban communities. This method aims to improve access, and quality of care and life for poor children in Los Angeles who may not otherwise receive these services.
These are just a few examples of what can happen when we develop creative solutions to our most pressing challenges. With this spirit of innovation, rooted in partnerships among sectors, we can keep the American Dream alive for everyone.
Antonia Hernández is chief executive of the California Community Foundation, a member of Rework America and co-author of “America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age.”
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