2023 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards honor leaders for effective solutions to pressing, high-profile challenges facing the state

SAN FRANCISCO (February 13, 2023) — The James Irvine Foundation announced today the recipients of its 2023 Leadership Awards, honoring seven leaders from six organizations for advancing solutions to critical issues affecting millions of Californians: housing and homelessness, tribal sovereignty and family welfare, criminal justice reform, human rights, education, food insecurity, climate change, and economic justice.

Each year, the Leadership Awards recognize individuals and organizations displaying a commitment to innovation and a record of success in improving people’s lives, creating opportunity, and contributing to a better California. Each recipient’s organization receives a $250,000 grant to support their work that benefits the people of California and merits expansion, replication, or policy support. The Foundation also helps recipients share their approaches with policymakers and practitioners.

“The California Way means finding new solutions to big problems, and that’s exactly what these leaders have demonstrated through their innovative work to tackle homelessness, climate change and other challenges facing our state,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. “Thank you to The James Irvine Foundation for its commitment to lifting up the impactful work of community leaders across our state to build a more vibrant, inclusive and resilient California.”

The 2023 Award recipients (see more information below) are:

  • Chris Contreras, Chief Program Officer of Brilliant Corners, for helping people exit homelessness through rapid housing placements and supportive services
  • Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage, for improving pay and working conditions for Californians through advocacy, organizing, and shifting the narrative about the value of work
  • Blair Kreuzer and Delia Sharpe, current Co-Executive Director and founding Executive Director of California Tribal Families Coalition, for advancing tribal sovereignty by unifying tribes to protect their children and families
  • Maen Mahfoud, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Replate, for addressing climate change by helping businesses donate surplus food and reduce waste
  • Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, for fighting for dignity, freedom, and opportunity for people affected by incarceration
  • Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette, Ph.D., Director of Project Moving Forward, for transforming language and literacy education for early childhood English learners

“These leaders are an inspiration for the work they have done – and for what they will continue to do — to improve the lives of Californians,” said Don Howard, President and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation. “The Award recipients are bold visionaries who are making a significant and demonstrable impact through their work. The Irvine Foundation is proud to lift up their leadership and support them as they tackle some of the most significant challenges facing our state.”

Howard and representatives of the Foundation will join California policymakers, Leadership Award recipient alumni, and elected officials to honor the Award recipients at a reception in Sacramento on February 13. Photos and video of the recipients are available here.

The Irvine Foundation has honored more than 100 California leaders since the program began in 2006. Award recipients are chosen by an independent selection committee that reviews nominations based on several criteria, including the significance, effectiveness, and innovation of the leader’s work.

More detail about the work of this year’s recipients is below. To learn more, please visit IrvineAwards.org.

Chris Contreras, Brilliant Corners
Chris Contreras is the Chief Program Officer of Brilliant Corners, which operates the Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool (Flex Pool) in Los Angeles County. The Flex Pool is a first-of-its kind public-private partnership which pairs rental subsidies with tenancy supports and case management services to help the County’s most vulnerable populations secure and maintain housing in a more coordinated and streamlined way. Since 2014, Contreras and Brilliant Corners have facilitated permanent supportive housing placements for roughly 10,500 formerly unhoused Angelenos through the Flex Pool.

Saru Jayaraman, One Fair Wage
Saru Jayaraman is the President of One Fair Wage, an organization dedicated to raising wages, eliminating subminimum wages, and improving the working conditions of workers. When the pandemic struck, millions of people either lost their jobs or faced dangerous working conditions. Jayaraman jumped into action, raising $24 million in 4 months to support service workers and quickly mobilizing tens of thousands to help lead an emerging and unprecedented new worker rights movement. Currently, the organization is focused on its 25 by 250 Campaign, working on legislation in 25 states including California to raise wages to better reflect the rising cost of living and to end subminimum wages for millions of workers by the Country’s 250th anniversary in 2026.

Blair Kreuzer and Delia Sharpe, California Tribal Families Coalition
Blair Kreuzer and Delia Sharpe are the current Co-Executive Director and Founding Executive Director of the California Tribal Families Coalition (CTFC). Founded by tribal leaders in 2017, CTFC advocates for policy and statutory change on behalf of tribes, provides legal counsel for tribes in child welfare cases, and boosts the capacity of tribes to deliver their own child welfare and behavioral health services; all in the mission of protecting and promoting the health, safety, and welfare of tribal children and families. Since its inception, CTFC has successfully passed legislation, changed regulations, secured funding for tribes, and reduced barriers to protect Indian children and families and advance tribal sovereignty.

Maen Mahfoud, Replate
Maen Mahfoud is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Replate, which is addressing climate change by helping businesses donate their surplus food to community organizations. Replate’s technology helps businesses reduce waste by providing food recovery services and on-demand data insights that can be used to make smarter decisions about inventory, meal planning, and food distribution. These changes help businesses save money and time, reduce their environmental impact, and improve community relationships. Since 2016, Replate has helped 1,500 businesses divert over 3.6 million pounds of surplus food from the landfill to those who need it. This effort has also prevented the production of more than 3,600 tons of CO2 emissions — that’s equivalent to planting 59,526 trees — and saved 985 million gallons of water — which is the annual amount used by 12,300 households.

Dorsey Nunn, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Dorsey Nunn is the Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), which aims to improve conditions for those who are incarcerated and enhance opportunities for people to rebuild their lives after release. Through its policy advocacy arm, All of Us Or None (AOUON), Nunn helps people who have been incarcerated to shape policies that affect them, fueling a civil rights movement for this constituency. By centering the voices and lived experiences of system-impacted people, LSPC and AOUON’s organizing and advocacy has successfully changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Californians by ending long-term solitary confinements, improving conditions in correctional facilities, expanding access to housing and employment, and restoring voting rights to people on parole and probation.

Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette, Ph.D., Project Moving Forward,
Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette, Ph.D. is the Project Director of Project Moving Forward, which accelerates language and literacy attainment for early childhood English learners. Navarrette pioneered the “RULE of 3” curriculum which includes three steps — REHEARSE, ANALYZE, and PRODUCE — and combines analytical thinking, hand gestures and movement, and peer interactions to build language and literacy skills. The approach is reinforced at the student’s home with extensive digital content and an animated teacher that engages the entire family. A critical distinction of Navarrette’s model is that students learn through analyzing and producing independent thought rather than through memorization alone. Now taught in over 800 classrooms, Navarrette’s “RULE of 3” curriculum is significantly reducing student opportunity gaps across California and nationwide.


About The James Irvine Foundation

The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit, grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunities for the people of California. The Foundation’s current focus is a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. The Foundation provided $187.3 million in grants in 2022 to organizations in California. Since our founding in 1937, Irvine has made more than $2.4 billion in grants throughout the state. For more information about the Irvine Foundation, please visit our website at www.irvine.org.