Partnership: Joining Forces to Build a Better Future for South LA

July 18, 2019
Ryan Imondi

Earlier this year, Ginger Lavender-Wilkerson, Clinical Program Manager at Children’s Institute, was wrapping up a call when she received a report about a recent gun-related homicide in Watts. She left the phone call and scheduled a meeting with an official at the elementary school near the crime scene. Later in the day, she would speak with her contacts at LAPD and the LA City Attorney’s Office to identify kids who witnessed the homicide and may need counseling.

Based out of CII’s Watts Campus, Lavender-Wilkerson said that her role rarely has a typical day, but her one constant is working alongside a wide array of community leaders, public officials and residents in and around Watts. By her estimation, she interacts with upwards of 50 external partners or community members in a single week.

From left: Ginger Lavender-Wilkerson with LA Deputy City Attorney Lara Drino, and LAPD Lieutenant Gena Brooks. The three work together on The REACH TEAM to help children exposed to gun violence.

As one of the four CII Values, partnership is essential to almost every role within the organization, but it is especially central to Lavender-Wilkerson’s work. She simply couldn’t do her job without utilizing the knowledge and expertise of other professionals.

“We don’t have all the answers at CII, but there are partners in our community who can help us fill in the blanks,” she said. “Without a strong approach to partnership, none of this would happen.”

In 2009, when Lavender-Wilkerson started at CII as a therapy intern in Watts, she was just getting to know the area while finishing her counseling degree at Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles.

In those early days, she noticed how Watts had a high concentration of government, faith-based and nonprofit initiatives, but that there was limited collaboration between these services. Families, who had endured generations of adversity, were only getting partial access to resources because organizations had not built effective partnerships. Referrals were being missed in areas like health care expansion, poverty reduction and crime prevention.

Without a strong approach to partnership, none of this would happen.

Ginger Lavender-Wilkerson, Clinical program Manager at CII

Today, Lavender-Wilkerson proudly describes her day-to-day as a positive evolution in the way CII collaborates with other organizations to serve Watts. This level of cooperation highlights a shift in the way crucial services are being accessed and demonstrates the heightened enthusiasm around partnership between service organizations.

This push for substantive partnerships comes during a time when Watts is in need of extra support. The area, which is one of LA’s smallest neighborhoods, has experienced high levels of crime and violence during the first half of 2019. Both shootings and homicide are up from the previous year.

Much of Lavender-Wilkerson’s emphasis on partnership focuses on developing a response to these events. She splits her work between two separate initiatives, The REACH TEAM and Community Innovations. Both involve work with multiple organizations and government partners who share important seats at the table when it comes to decision-making on community initiatives and region-wide activism.

In Community Innovations, CII works closely with Partners for Children South LA, Watts Leadership Institute and Saint John’s Child Wellness Center to expand services that will help residents in Watts heal from decades of trauma.

Ginger Lavender-Wilkerson (left) with CII staff at the Power of Wellness: Community Connections Kickoff Event.

The collaboration combines the expertise of more than 40 different nonprofits to understand the unique needs of communities that experience trauma and the factors that contribute to them. As Lavender-Wilkerson puts it, Community Innovations is designed to empower the citizens of Watts to become a trauma-informed community, link children and families to resources that help them heal from existing exposure and hopefully, limit future activity that leads to trauma.

When Lavender-Wilkerson is not answering calls or attending meetings for Community Innovations, she is partnering with LAPD and the LA City Attorney’s Office to reduce the impact of trauma on children and families exposed to gun violence through The REACH TEAM.

Lavender-Wilkerson leads CII’s efforts while receiving support from Care Coordinator Eztli Herrera-Gardea and therapist Maria Reyes. The team responds anytime there are reports of shots fired in Watts and provides free counseling services to children who may have seen or heard the shooting.

I feel extremely lucky to have found a partner in Ginger, who deeply understands and appreciates the needs of these children and families we are helping in South LA through The REACH TEAM

Lara Drino, LA Deputy City Attorney Lara Drino

To do this work, the team is in constant contact with local schools, housing projects, Watts Gang Task Force and churches so they have a reliable group of sources who can share information about the people or areas of the city that may have been affected by a shooting. These key connections also help reduce residents saying no to services because of stigma tied to counseling.

With LAPD and the LA City Attorney’s office as the primary external partners with The REACH TEAM, Lavender-Wilkerson is constantly in contact with Lieutenant Gena Brooks of LAPD, and CII member of CII’s Board of Trustees, and Deputy City Attorney Lara Drino. The three are on the phone sharing details on weekends or sending text updates throughout the week at any time of day or night.

Drino said Lavender-Wilkerson has been a great partner in growing The REACH TEAM’s connection to Watts.

“I feel extremely lucky to have found a partner in Ginger, who deeply understands and appreciates the needs of these children and families we are helping in South LA through The REACH TEAM,” Drino said.

Lavender-Wilkerson said she expects the number of people she works with on both Initiatives to grow. While it may mean more phone calls and meetings, it also means the number of people in Watts accessing these services is growing too.

“This is hard yet rewarding work. It requires a certain skill set that is adaptable to the population it serves, ” Lavender-Wilkerson said. “We’re becoming more and more embedded in this community and these key relationships are growing.”