Community-Driven Care Priorities
Where Care is Needed Most
The Volunteer Center is a longstanding community presence in southwestern Los Angeles County, serving more than 40 cities across the region. Given the scope and varied challenges of our service area, we prioritize our program, volunteer, and funding resources to help where care is needed most. To determine the best focus for our efforts, we bring community members and stakeholder organizations to the table. Together we identify the most pressing needs and collaborate on a response. Any response is always designed not only to solve urgent challenges within the community, but also to encourage volunteers to turn their feelings of empathy into action. We touch hearts and open minds with engagement in a continuous cycle of care.
Our ongoing community consultation process has resulted in the following priorities.
Operation Teddy Bear – Educational Inequity
At the Volunteer Center we feel strongly that, regardless of income or circumstances, each student has the right to a high-quality education. Our Operation Teddy Bear program targets educational inequity in the academic resource distribution process by providing children with the tools, books, and materials they need to effectively learn and complete assignments. It is a reality that classrooms often need community support to ensure proper resources and, without the support typically offered schools in wealthier neighborhoods, our partner schools and teachers often lack the funds they require. These are schools that tend to be populated with historically oppressed and underrepresented groups. With Operation Teddy Bear and initiatives like it, we are helping to close the educational gap and provide students with what they need.
We work closely with partner schools on educational inequity. The Volunteer Center covers several major school districts:
- Compton Unified
- Hawthorne Unified
- Inglewood Unified
- Lawndale Unified
- Lennox Unified
- Long Beach Unified
- Los Angeles Unified
- Torrance Unified (two schools)
The schools we serve are identified as “high poverty” using California Department of Education (CDE) data showing that 75% or more of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches, based on family income.
Food for Kids – Food Insecurity
The same students who need support with educational resources also need access to healthy, affordable meals seven days a week. Some years ago, staff from a local school approached the Volunteer Center about students who were coming to school starving on Monday morning because there wasn’t enough food to eat at home on the weekends. These children struggled to pay attention in class and to perform well on assignments. The Volunteer Center’s action in response became our Food for Kids program, which now provides 3,000 weekend meals to local families.
We live in the midst of one of the highest food insecurity zones in our state – over 90% of the youth in our service area don’t have the healthy meals they need – yet every day, Los Angeles County generates more than 4,000 tons of food waste. With Food for Kids, we’re working to close that gap as our incredible volunteer families and local businesses donate and help distribute shelf-stable food to children and families in need.
Our commitment to meeting immediate needs extends to mental health – supporting our community members in living whole and balanced lives with tools for strong mental health and support in times of struggle. From our partnerships with the region’s major hospitals and access to their Community Health Needs Assessment data, we know that mental health is a priority issue – especially for youth. In the United States, one in six youth between the ages of 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder each year, and the majority of lifetime mental illness begins appearing in the teens and early 20s.
This knowledge has driven us to establish our Empathy in Action and teen programs with a foundation in social and emotional wellness. A study of more than 700K participants found that people who started to volunteer become happier over time and that volunteering can boost mental health. In this way, we help our community members prioritize self-care, build resilience to cope with life stresses so that they have increased capacity to serve others.
Youth Suicide Prevention
As we have evolved the Volunteer Center’s mandate to address our community’s most urgent needs, the sad reality of a continued rise in youth suicide rates has increased our focus on youth. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10-34, and among some specific populations this terrible statistic is even higher. Beyond statistics, we have been personally affected by the losses and struggles of local families.
In 2019 we co-founded the SPA 8 Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, a cross-sector coalition of representatives from over 30 local organizations and agencies within Los Angeles County’s Service Planning Area (SPA) 8. Dedicated to educating and providing resources to the community, the Task Force is part of a national effort to reduce suicide rates by 2025. We urge all peer organizations to increase protective factors for youth, and accordingly we include these factors as a core component in all of our programs.