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The 2009 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards Honor Extraordinary Californians for Innovative, Practical Solutions

Six Californians Win $750,000 for Inspiring Work on Green Jobs, Substance Abuse, Literacy Programs, Asian American Theater, Youth Services and Community Revitalization

Elected and Appointed Officials to Honor Recipients Today at a Sacramento Event

SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 9 /PRNewswire/ -- The James Irvine Foundation will hold an event today in Sacramento to announce and honor the recipients of the 2009 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards. Now in its fourth year, the awards celebrate extraordinary leaders who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant state issues. The awards are intended to publicize proven solutions that can inform policymaking and better the lives of more Californians.

The six recipients - further described below - will each receive $125,000 and additional support from the Foundation. Presenters at the event will include California elected and appointed officials such as:

  • Controller John Chiang;
  • Treasurer Bill Lockyer;
  • Assemblywoman Julia Brownley;
  • Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin;
  • Kim Belshe, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency; and
  • Dale Bonner, Secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

Recipients will also participate in a roundtable discussion about the ways California might adopt the successful models they've created in their communities.

"While tough economic times can exacerbate some of our most pressing problems, they also present an opportunity to adopt new approaches so we are using scarce resources as wisely as possible," said Jim Canales, President and CEO of the Irvine Foundation.

For more information on this year's recipients - including longer summaries and photographs - visit:

Recipients of the 2009 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award are:

Josefina Alvarado Mena, Safe Passages/Youth Ventures Joint Powers Authority, Oakland

In the fifth grade, Alvarado Mena led a lunch strike, demanding healthier, culturally relevant foods. She succeeded and hasn't stopped since. She leads a groundbreaking collaboration, Safe Passages/Youth Ventures Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which includes Alameda County, the City of Oakland, and the Oakland and San Lorenzo Unified School Districts. Typically JPAs manage transportation and infrastructure projects, but Alvarado Mena argued that the issues facing low-income youth are just as complex and also involve numerous agencies. Her partnership - which leverages public and private funds - improves the delivery of violence prevention, mental health and juvenile justice programs. As a result, children in their Early Childhood Initiative show reduced aggression and improved social behavior; a middle school violence prevention/social skills curriculum resulted in 72 percent fewer suspensions; and alternatives for juvenile offenders have dramatically reduced the recidivism rate.

Tim Dang, East West Players, Los Angeles

The nation's oldest professional theater of color, East West Players has been the stage for major Asian American actors (Tony Award-winner B.D. Wong, Star Trek's George Takei and House's Kal Penn, among others). Under Dang's leadership, East West Players has also become a full-fledged regional theater and multicultural hub. Dang has expanded the public's understanding of "Asian American" by showcasing a wide range of Asian characters and cultures, as well as non-Asian artists. He has brought new playwrights and audiences (nearly half of whom are non-Asian) to the theater through his emerging playwrights contest, innovative new works and creative outreach strategies. Dang's influence extends well beyond his theater, with East West Players' school performances and workshops aimed at bridging the gap among students of different racial backgrounds.

Kathryn Icenhower, SHIELDS for Families, Los Angeles

As a social worker in South L.A. during the 1980s' crack epidemic, Icenhower saw too many babies born addicted to drugs. Icenhower discovered that many women refused treatment at rehabilitation centers because they knew their children would go into foster care. She created a new model that keeps families together by letting children stay with their mothers at the treatment center, while also helping families address issues connected with substance abuse through family therapy, parenting classes, and housing, education and job training services. More than 80 percent of SHIELDS' clients complete their treatment programs (triple the national average), and the decrease in drug-exposed newborns saved one hospital $60 million per year. Icenhower also designed an initial assessment protocol that, during a child-welfare crisis, offers immediate assistance and treatment options. This new practice, recently adopted countywide, is expected to dramatically reduce new foster care cases in L.A. and save the county $92 million over five years.

Luis Santana, Reading and Beyond, Fresno

Shaped by his work with street kids in South America - and his own reading struggles as a child in Brazil - Santana believes that the path to a brighter future is paved with books. Reading and Beyond - begun 10 years ago in a church with 30 children - now tutors 600 students a day in 16 locations, including in an RV classroom that travels to students and families in their neighborhoods. The organization assesses each child's reading abilities, designs individualized plans and reassesses the child every nine weeks. On average, 70 percent of children enrolled for at least six months improve one grade level in reading, and some have improved four grade levels in one year. Building on Reading and Beyond's success with parents - nearly 17,000 have utilized the program - Santana has launched "College Now" to help parents gain a college education and improve their job prospects. His future plans include opening a Family Resource Center offering multiple services to local families.

Richard Valle, Tri-CED Community Recycling, Union City

Long before "green jobs" were popularized, Valle built a thriving business that benefits the environment and provides job opportunities for youth and workers who face employment challenges. It all started after Valle came back from Vietnam and began working with young prisoners. Realizing that they could thrive if given a chance, Valle founded Tri-CED nearly 30 years ago and has since employed 1,500 people ages 14 to 24, many of whom are at-risk or formerly incarcerated. Tri-CED today processes 2,208 tons of recyclables a month, while also helping employees turn their lives around. Many Tri-CED employees earn their high school diplomas, enroll in college, keep their jobs, support their families and stay out of trouble. Valle is now exploring a venture to recycle computer parts as well as a partnership with Chabot College to create a $4 million environmental education center that would offer vocational training, field trips for school children and English-language classes.

Jennifer Vanica, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, San Diego

San Diego's Diamond neighborhood was home to 88,000 people, 42 gangs, no major grocery chain, an intersection known as the "Four Corners of Death," and a deserted, 20-acre industrial lot - until Vanica and her staff engaged the community in turning it into a thriving commercial and cultural plaza. More than 3,000 residents helped plan, design, build and lease Market Creek Plaza. So far, this effort has led to 11 businesses, more than 500 jobs, millions of dollars reinvested in the community and lower crime - gangs have even declared the Plaza neutral territory. Residents can also invest in this venture. Vanica helped create the nation's first Community-Development Initial Public Offering, and now 416 residents - investing as little as $200 - own 20 percent of the Plaza. Notable in the current financial environment, residents have received 10 percent annual returns on their investment. Vanica and her staff are now seeing elements of their model replicated elsewhere, while also supporting 35 local groups that are developing a dozen additional projects, including a cultural "village" with affordable housing, new retail and office space.

About The James Irvine Foundation

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful and inclusive society. The Foundation's grantmaking focuses on three program areas: Arts, California Democracy and Youth. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided over $1 billion in grants to more than 3,000 nonprofit organizations throughout California. With $1.4 billion in assets, the Foundation made grants of $78 million in 2008 for the people of California.

    Contacts:  Jenny Park
               415.901.0111 ext. 340

SOURCE The James Irvine Foundation
Copyright©2009 PR Newswire.
All rights reserved

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