Strengthening underrepresented communities by training and inspiring the next generation of leaders
Camila Chávez spent her childhood on picket lines advocating with her mother, iconic labor organizer Dolores Huerta. At a young age she saw how communities are strengthened when people use their voice to demand change. In 2003, Chávez founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) with her mother to engage and train groups of neighbors — primarily Latino, African American, and immigrant residents of Kern, Tulare, Fresno, and northern Los Angeles counties — to collectively advocate for policy changes that improve public infrastructure, schools, and social services. Using the methodical “house meeting model,” DHF organizers meet with small groups of neighbors, co-workers, and friends to help them identify shared concerns and recognize that they are the leaders best equipped to make the change they seek. DHF and its members have a notable track record of achieving policy goals including altering school discipline practices, improving local infrastructure, expanding access to health care, and increasing opportunities for political engagement. As DHF’s inaugural Executive Director, Chávez continues to honor her mother’s legacy while growing the organization to a $5 million annual budget with 44 full-time staff and more than 100 seasonal canvassers.
We train and engage everyday people who don’t realize that they have power to make the changes that they want to see in their own communities.
— Camila Chavez
- Latino, African American, and immigrant populations throughout the Central Valley face several challenges, including poor air and water quality, limited access to health care, and public policies that contribute to lower educational outcomes for students of color.
- Given demographics, job migration, and housing conditions, the United States Census bureau deems much of the Central Valley “hard to count,” including more than 57 percent of the populations of Kern, Tulare, and Fresno counties.
- Many voting districts in the Central Valley have been drawn to favor white candidates despite majority Latino populations, including the Kern County Board of Supervisors which a United States district judge recently found in violation of the Voting Rights Act because it was “not equally open to participation by Latino voters.”
- Only 41 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds in Kern County are registered to vote compared with 48 percent statewide, and voter participation among Latino and immigrant voters lags behind other groups. 
- Through its “house meeting model,” DHF emboldens neighbors to join with other community members to form a chapter of Vecinos Unidos (Neighbors United). Then, DHF extensively trains members to understand public budgets and planning materials, meet with elected officials, speak at public meetings, engage community members, and advocate for policy changes.
- DHF catalyzes policy changes through its unwavering belief that residents have the power and potential to improve communities and its commitment to provide deep and sustained support to help residents achieve their goals.
- The DHF model demystifies complex policy-making processes, reducing barriers to political power for under-represented residents in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
- In 2017, DHF won a legal settlement to address school suspension and expulsion practices among Kern High School District students — Latino and African American students face significantly higher expulsion rates than their white counterparts. The settlement eliminated suspensions and expulsions for defiance, required all staff to be trained in positive behavioral interventions, and instituted other policies to expand transparency and cultural sensitivity.
- Under Chávez’s leadership, DHF has earned scores of budgeting victories in over 15 school districts, including more funding for school nurses and mental health services, culturally sensitive libraries, implicit bias trainings, and eliminating the use of Local Control and Accountability Plan funds for student resource officers at Bakersfield City School District.
- DHF has led and actively contributed to many local bond measures and policies that have resulted in millions of dollars for local infrastructure projects, recreation facilities, and a community college facility in a deeply underserved city. DHF also engages in many state policy debates, including SB 200, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, which the organization was instrumental in passing.
- DHF co-led California’s state-funded vaccination outreach and education efforts in the Central Valley. Since March 2021, DHF has conducted 60 vaccination clinics which administered over 6,000 vaccination doses. DHF’s canvassers have provided door to door outreach to more than 80,000 people and have distributed more than 1.5 million masks to community members.
- DHF youth have participated in civic engagement efforts which has contributed to the adoption of a Dolores Huerta Day resolution in the Bakersfield City School District, the passage of AB 4 (the Health4All Bill), the elimination of police on middle school campuses at Fresno Unified School District, an increase in data transparency and reporting, and increased investment in wellness hubs and peer-to-peer support programs.
- In 2023, DHF plans to break ground on the Dolores Huerta Peace and Justice Cultural Center. The Bakersfield center will include a national training facility for organizers, child development facility, youth and community resource centers, an auditorium, an outdoor event center, an art gallery, and a permanent exhibition honoring local civil rights leaders and the contributions of immigrants who have built California’s agricultural economy.
- Through its Organizing Leadership Academy, DHF plans to provide fee-based services including organizing training, technical assistance, and fiscal sponsorship. Through hands on experience grassroots organizers will learn to conduct voter registration campaigns and house meetings in California, Arizona, Texas, and throughout the southwest region of the United States.
-  California Secretary of State
-  Courthouse News Service
-  Children Now
-  The Bakersfield Californian
Video by Talking Eyes Media
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.