Literally hundreds of neighborhood advocates and activists have got their start in the Long Beach Neighborhood Leadership Program since 1992, and a little thing like a pandemic wasn't going to get in the way of another class graduating in 2020.
The five-month program is put on by the Housing and Neighborhood Services Bureau in the city's Development Services Department. It began as part of the City Council-approved Neighborhood Improvement Strategy, according to program coordinator Francisco Rodriguez.
This year, a class of 32 people convened in early March — just days before the shutdown ordered to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. By the time the dust cleared, 20 newly certified neighborhood leaders will "graduate" this Saturday, Aug. 29.
"The program is designed to provide the skills to make a difference in the neighborhood," Rodriguez said. "We have seen it make a difference. We show them how to get the resources they need through the Neighborhood Resource Center."
So far, 751 people have completed the program, Rodriquez said. Some have gone on to serve on neighborhood councils, city committees and commissions, and two — Dan Baker and Val Lerch — even went on to be elected to the City Council.
Classes meet every other week, usually for three hours. This year, though, all of the classes were conducted online through Zoom, so classes were cut to two hours a session.
"We had Spanish translation for the whole program," Rodriguez said. "And even though it was online, we were able to complete group activities and projects too."
This is the first time any of the program has been conducted online. Rodriguez said a lack of technology caused some original members to drop out, while others had to withdraw because of family and/or job issues caused by the pandemic shutdown. He added that those people would be welcomed back into the program when circumstances allowed.
Some of the normal Neighborhood Leadership Program activities — neighborhood cleanups, for example — have been put on pause by coronavirus restrictions. Others, like census support and organizing food giveaways, have picked up. The practical experience carries forward after people graduate, Rodriguez said.
The program is free to attend, and the only requirements are to be 18 years old or older, and a Long Beach resident. For. information about next. year's program, go to www.longbeach.gov/lbds/hn/leadership/.
Here are the graduates of the 2020 Neighborhood Leadership Program:
John Chen, Tracy Fuentes, Garrett Gibson, Carlos Hernandez, Flor Guadalupe Hernandez, Eric Hubbard, Miguel Jaimes, Alexsandr Kanevskiy, Virginia Lopez, James Marks II, Makayla Maxwell, Jasmine Mendiola, Willam R. Pearson, Alejandra Perez, Adela Perez, Louis Smith, Rosetta Tate, Alen Torres, Susanna Lee Twaite and Pamela West.