Written by Don Howard, President and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation

Today, I have the great privilege of announcing the recipients of the 2022 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards.

For more than a decade, the Leadership Awards have recognized leaders whose innovative solutions to critical state challenges create opportunity and improve lives across the state. This year’s impressive leaders are an inspiration for what they have accomplished for the people of California already and what they can accomplish in the future.

Selected from a highly competitive pool of 419 nominees, the 2022 recipients are advancing solutions on several important issues facing Californians: civic engagement, crime prevention, health and healthcare, support for foster youth, wildfire prevention, and workforce development.

Each demonstrates exceptional leadership — characterized by significance, innovation, effectiveness, inclusiveness, timing, and leadership capacity — and will receive a $250,000 grant to support their work and to help share their effective approaches with policymakers and peers.

I hope you will take a moment to learn about the leaders and their groundbreaking solutions.

Please join us in celebrating the 2022 recipients:

We are grateful to these leaders and look forward to recognizing others like them in the coming years. If you know a leader (or leaders) doing innovative work that benefits the people of California, please nominate them for a 2023 Leadership Award. Nominations open today.

Dr. Noha Aboelata, Roots Community Health Center

Addressing the root causes of health disparities and improving outcomes for people impacted by systemic inequities

Raised in Oakland, Dr. Noha Aboelata returned to Alameda County after medical school to address health disparities among African American residents and their root cause: poverty. As a family practice physician and later Chief Medical Officer at Oakland’s Native American Health Center, Dr. Aboelata found the standard 15-minute patient visits insufficient to address the full range of her patients’ issues. So, in 2008, she founded Roots Community Health Center (Roots) to provide whole health care to those who lacked safety net services and access to traditional support systems — primarily African American men, including those re-entering society from prison — to help facilitate their journey toward self-sufficiency. Roots has since expanded to serve women and children and provides primary care, navigation services, and employment opportunities to individuals and families in Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Roots’ active clientele exceeds 10,000 — 89 percent are African American, evenly split between men and women, and largely Medi-Cal recipients. Roots’ holistic approach is enhancing accessibility and consistency of care and enabling Dr. Aboelata and her colleagues to connect patients to a range of resources that support their health, stability, and overall wellness.

DeVone Boggan, Advance Peace

Creating healthy, safe, and just communities by transforming the lives of individuals at the center of gun violence

DeVone Boggan has dedicated his life to helping young people heal and transform their lives. When the city of Richmond asked him to help reduce the gun violence ravaging the city, he knew a life-altering opportunity awaited. In 2007, Boggan became the first Neighborhood Safety Director in the country working within government to reduce gun violence in urban areas without the tools of law enforcement. Where many saw an insurmountable problem, Boggan saw humanity and the need for practical solutions informed by the individuals at the center of gun violence. In 2010, Boggan launched the “Peacemaker Fellowship,” which in its inaugural round provided deeply intensive, customized support to a cohort of 21 African American men under the age of 27 years old, all of whom had committed multiple gun crimes but avoided incarceration. The model is based on Boggan’s conviction that participants are products of their toxic environments and capable of changing their lives, a theory that is supported by outcome data. Between 2012 and 2019, firearm assaults in Richmond dropped by 85 percent and homicides were down 65 percent compared to the eight years prior to launching the program. In 2016, Boggan spun off the Peacemaker Fellowship® into a non-profit, Advance Peace, which has supported the model’s implementation in Richmond, Stockton, Sacramento, Fresno, Salinas, and Woodland.

Camila Chávez, The Dolores Huerta Foundation

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.

Serita Cox, iFoster

Using technology to connect foster youth with resources, jobs, and support to become successful, independent adults

Raised in the child welfare system, Serita Cox was impacted by challenges that many foster youth face — housing instability, disrupted education, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Despite these challenges, Cox achieved personal and career success as a senior executive of a Fortune 100 technology company in Silicon Valley. Her experiences inspired her to use technology to help foster youth overcome their challenges to achieve their full potential. In 2010, Cox co-founded iFoster to create a safe and private online community for foster youth, caregivers, and child welfare organizations to access thousands of resources and support such as computers, tutoring, housing, food, emergency funds, and mental health services. Cox believes that employment is key to independence for foster youth, stating “a job is how foster youth can ensure they continue to live with a roof over their head and food on the table, and can pursue their dreams once they exit care.” iFoster trains and places transition-age foster youth in competitive careers; it also hires hundreds of current and former foster youth to provide support to its 70,000 members ranging from basic resource navigation assistance to complex case management. Under Cox’s formidable leadership, iFoster is improving child and caregiver well-being and transforming the child welfare system.

Naindeep Singh, Jakara Movement

Empowering Sikh youth to reimagine and improve their communities

Growing up as a Punjabi Sikh in the Central Valley, Naindeep Singh lacked opportunities to engage with his peers and the broader Sikh community about issues that were important to him. So, in 2000, he became a founding member of Jakara Movement, a youth leadership development organization focused on the Punjabi Sikh population and anchored in California’s Central Valley. Led by volunteers for its first 10 years, the organization educates Sikh youth about their heritage, explores challenges facing them like gender equality and caste, and prepares them to be leaders in their communities. Now with 70 registered high school clubs and 25 college chapters spanning 15 California counties, Jakara Movement has a paid staff of 41, including Singh who has served as Executive Director since 2009. Representing roughly 400,000 to 500,000 Californians, Jakara Movement has accomplished several goals, including expanding language access to voting materials, contributing to high vaccination rates among underserved communities, and securing protections for renters and agricultural workers. Jakara Movement has also helped build confidence, leadership skills, and civic engagement among thousands of youth participants, many of whom have encountered bigotry and harassment.

Brandon Smith & Royal Ramey, The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program

Preventing wildfires by training formerly incarcerated individuals for firefighting careers

After being released from prison, Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey struggled to find firefighting jobs despite receiving the required training and experience while incarcerated at one of California’s fire camps. Fires were ravaging the state and firefighting agencies were reporting labor shortages — so, why weren’t they being hired? Like countless other fire camp alumni, Smith and Ramey had to overcome significant barriers to entering the profession such as the stigma of having a prior criminal record and limited access to transportation. Determined to succeed, the leaders enrolled in a fire academy to be trained again and, nearly two years post-release, were hired as professional wildland firefighters. While on their first assignment, they ran into friends still in fire camps who were eager to learn how the leaders were able to find success after returning home from prison. That encounter inspired Smith and Ramey to create The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP) to help their peers navigate the complicated hiring process to become firefighters. Launched informally in 2015 and incorporated in 2018, FFRP recruits incarcerated firefighters from fire camps and provides individuals — primarily formerly incarcerated men and women of color — with on-the-job training, re-entry support, and connections to firefighting careers. To date, Smith and Ramey have trained and provided career support to more than 3,000 currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.