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Advocating for the community though Neighborhood Councils


Participants at a recent Center for Nonprofit Management webinar heard how Los Angeles city government is structured and the roles that elected and appointed officials play in developing and implementing policy and budgets. A number of local nonprofits were on hand to build ongoing collaboration between their goals and the City of LA.

Raquel Beltran, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, (Empower LA) noted that because LA is so large, the city needs all the nonprofit, community based organizations to keep in touch with its four million residents.

“Nonprofits help empower LA,” she said. “They identify the inequities, the gaps in city services.”

Beltran’s department promotes civic engagement and makes local government more responsive to resident’s needs. This is done by supporting the Neighborhood Councils (NCs) throughout 12 regions of the city. Councils are composed of volunteer, elected officials who are concerned about the delivery of services to their communities.

“We want your participation to help us reach the people we cannot reach,” Beltran said. “So many have no internet access to web-based meetings.”

Empower LA has developed a comprehensive onboarding program tailored to support successful neighborhood council board participation and management. The program is open to all board members but tailored for people who are new to the Neighborhood Council System.

Nonprofit community based organizations (CBOs) play their role by attending NC meetings and letting those officials know what’s happening at the grassroots level with their constituents. In addition to the door-to-door visits, some organizations use SMS messaging to keep residents informed.

Empower LA wants to invest to help increase voter participation in the next election. Beltrain noted that partnerships with CBOs have resulted in deeper, meaningful engagement of stakeholders.

“Nonprofits can access the Neighborhood Councils to take action,” she said. “But 56 percent of residents have not participated in the neighborhood council system and 25 percent have never even heard of it.”

LA City Clerk Holly Wolcott added that not enough local organizations take advantage of the Neighborhood Purpose grants, which are eligible to 501c3 organizations and public schools.  Those grants are for projects that serve the local neighborhood.

“The average award is under $5,000,” Wolcott said, subject to availability. “But that can fund arts activities, community beautification projects, and academic enrichment. As long as it’s a  public benefit open to the public and free of charge.”

The city’s fiscal year began July 1, so she suggested that interested nonprofits go before their neighborhood council and start the process there.

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