Arms Wide Open

I just hugged a dear, dear friend, who I haven’t seen in a while, and wow, does it feel good. As I look around our beautiful Los Angeles community, I see others like me reemerging from quarantine timidly reestablishing their connections. It may take us a bit of time to feel comfortable face to face again, but I know that just as we came together over social reform and public safety, we will come together once more.

Looking towards the future, I would like to apply the lessons of 2020, of overcoming challenges through unified action, to the current direction of our agency. Through advocacy on the local and state level, we can establish a voice for not only the families we serve but the broader community as a whole.

Okay, so how does happen? Well, for starters, we created an entirely new role – Director of Government and Strategic Affairs. To fill that role I proudly introduce you to celebrated advocate Karriann Farrell Hinds. With her vast years of experience as an accomplished community leader, political appointee, successful attorney, and passionate advocate for ensuring justice and equality for underserved communities Karriann was the perfect fit. Karriann was very clear in her mission: voice the needs of our agency so that the staff can focus one hundred percent on meeting the needs of Vista’s children and families. Karriann shared this sentiment directly with us by saying- “my focus will be determining how Vista can lead (locally, statewide, and nationally) on issues such as foster care support, residential placement support, and amplifying the importance of mental health resources.

One of our primary goals is to increase the visibility of Vista Del Mar within the community. To take a step in achieving that goal, we became the nonprofit representative on the Westside Neighborhood Council Board, a group of elected and appointed representatives who live and/or work in Los Angeles City’s 5th Council District. As the appointee, Karriann (on behalf of Vista) will work in tandem with local stakeholders (including residents, businesses, and nonprofits) to represent the needs and concerns of the community surrounding Vista with elected officials in City Hall, LA County and the California Legislature who serve the district. As the representative, she will help Vista Del Mar nurture our relationships with our neighbors and community partners, which helps fulfill our civic commitment and will lead to greater understanding of and support for our work.

Another goal is to increase Vista Del Mar’s engagement in advocating for legislation and policies that impact the children and families we serve. Karriann is integral to this work, as she will utilize her extensive knowledge of government structures at the local, state, and Federal levels to identify current and future legislation essential to Vista Del Mar, particularly to address fiscal and social inequities in foster care and residential care facilities, and to protect resources for service providers. For example, as we emerge from the COVID pandemic, we are advocating to ensure that new budgets prioritize mental health and foster care services. Some examples of this advocacy include securing stipends for foster families and provider reimbursements for COVID-related expenditures, both of whom were critical in continuing to provide services throughout the pandemic. Additionally, we are supporting legislation that seeks to end restrictions on family and relative foster placements that disproportionately impact Black and Brown families as well as supporting policies to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers, who are vital to the successful placement and transition of foster youth and families, and many of whom serve on Vista Del Mar staff as critical members of our programs. Additionally, Karriann will represent Vista Del Mar in coalitions and collaborations with allies, partner agencies and other stakeholders where such engagement will further amplify the impact and reach of our voice and work.

The addition of Karriann and her role is just the start of expanded community involvement. Personally, as I prepare to celebrate my second anniversary as a Los Angelenos, I could not be happier to be a part of a more diverse, vibrant, and purposed community. Together, I look forward to building a more inclusive and supportive society for not only those we serve but the broader Los Angeles community as well.