Children’s Hospital Team Members Go the Extra Mile for the Community
Through the Office of Community Affairs’ Community Impact Champions Network, team members from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are embracing volunteer opportunities to improve the health and well-being of local communities.
By Sara Jones
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has a strong tradition of responding to the needs of the community. In fact, it is in response to those needs that the hospital opened 120 years ago as a facility dedicated to the care of children.
Over the years, the hospital has deepened its commitment to being both a provider of world-class medical care and a meaningful partner in the community. In 2019, CHLA introduced an enterprise-wide initiative that aims to leverage economic, intellectual and enterprise resources to improve the health and well-being of local youth and families.
“Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is part of the community,” says Susana Gantan, MPH, Senior Program Manager of Community Affairs, Government and Public Policy at CHLA. “It is ingrained in our culture to support our local communities and to give back, beyond our medical expertise.”
Inspired to be good neighbors
A key component of the hospital’s community impact effort is the Community Impact Champions Network (CICN). Through the CICN, hospital team members volunteer to engage in local good neighbor programs and projects related to food access, sustainability, environmental safety and beautification.
The CICN is composed of approximately 350 team members representing more than 100 departments across Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. While they may have different motivations for participating, each member shares a common belief that CHLA is more than a hospital—it is an organization made up of compassionate individuals who want to help improve the lives of kids and families in the community.
“Sustaining and promoting local healthy food environments that achieve community wellness close to home is an essential element of CHLA’s Office of Community Affairs’ Community Impact priorities,” says Olga Taylor, Project Manager of Community Affairs at CHLA. “We expanded our coordinated efforts with our local partner network to also design and carry out effective food security programming for families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The need continues to grow, but so does the willingness of our CICN team member volunteers to help our local community.”
Jur Linsen, CHLA’s Senior Social Media Strategist, joined other CICN members at a recent food distribution event near the hospital. “Packing up those boxes with fresh and locally sourced produce, eggs, cheese and other healthy foods gave me a great feeling of making a difference for people in need,” he says. “It's such a smooth operation, and since all the goods come from farms nearby it's a low-carbon operation as well. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other CHLA team members and volunteers with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and Rick's Produce.”
Matilda Young, a pharmacist at Children’s Hospital, has also volunteered through the CICN. When Young heard about an opportunity to partner with Friends of the Los Angeles River, she knew it would be a meaningful experience for herself as well as her daughter’s Girl Scout troop. They spent a morning last summer collecting trash and debris from along the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk.
“Joining The Great LA River CleanUp was a wonderful opportunity for the girls and me to learn about a different community in So Cal,” Young says. “We all felt good about making a positive difference in the environment.”
As Vice President of Facilities and Support Services, Chuck Pickering oversees a large team at CHLA, many of whom have participated as part of the CICN. “We have looked at many ways to help the hospital achieve its community outreach goals,” says Pickering. “Providing healthy food for those in need really hit home with our team members. A large number of us have gotten together [in Virgil Village] on Sunday mornings to support the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council’s fresh produce distribution in collaboration with Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office and Rick’s Produce Market.”
Magdalene Lau, who is Pickering’s Administrative Assistant, has helped with food distribution on many Sunday mornings, as well as on Tuesdays in Glassell Park. “No words can express my gratitude to CHLA for giving me an opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters in the community,” she says.
William Marsh, CHLA’s Vice President of Campus Planning and Construction, is another leader who encouraged members of his team—and his 20-year-old daughter—to work alongside him at a food distribution event. “Having started at CHLA just four months before the pandemic, I find myself looking for more opportunities to give back,” says Marsh.
Promoting healthy food and a healthy environment
The CICN partners with a variety of entities, including local businesses, neighborhood councils and civic leaders, to give back to the community. Since its inception two years ago, CICN volunteers have participated in over 100 community activities that address food access, neighborhood safety and environmental issues.
Children’s Hospital is honored to partner with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, the office of Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and Rick’s Produce Market to provide free fresh produce to the East Hollywood/Virgil Village neighborhood near the hospital. From June 2020 to October 2021, more than 1,400 boxes—about 35,000 pounds—of fresh produce have been given to families and individuals facing food insecurity since June 2020. During the same time period, volunteers from the CICN have supported other food distribution events to provide an additional 1,100 boxes to the community, raising the overall total to more than 2,500 boxes or 50,000 pounds of food.
“We have also had the opportunity to support some of our patient families who live in the local community,” says Taylor. “CHLA’s Office of Community Affairs promotes these events through all of our internal networks so that providers and our team members are aware and can share these resources with CHLA families.”
Since January 2020, CICN volunteers have participated in 17 “Doing Good in the Neighborhood” clean-up events coordinated by the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. Overall, they have helped collect and remove over 500 pounds of trash from the community.
In August, volunteers from the CICN hit the streets of East Hollywood to join Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell for his 73rd “Councilmember in Your Corner.” The event kicked off at the Barton Avenue Median near CHLA and included a community clean-up in partnership with local residents, door-to-door canvassing to connect community members with important city services, and tree-trimming and maintenance performed by the City’s Urban Forestry Division.
“CHLA not only makes a difference in children's health care,” Councilmember O’Farrell says, “but also on the ground in our neighborhoods, where they take an active role in giving back to communities across the 13th District. I'm thankful for their ongoing partnership to uplift and help local residents.”
Community gardens are a gift to local neighborhoods that help to reduce food insecurity, protect the environment and encourage better nutrition. Children’s Hospital is a proud sponsor of The City’s Garden at Los Angeles City College (LACC). Nearly 40 employee volunteers from the CICN have volunteered 94 hours at the garden, which provides LACC students and the community with a place to come together, grow their own fresh produce, and learn about nutrition and diverse cuisines.
“I was excited and grateful to learn about the volunteer opportunities at The City’s Garden because I am proud of CHLA’s commitment to community partnership and want to help make that partnership a reality,” says Jennifer Baird, PhD, Director of Clinical Services Education and Research. “I was thrilled to join my team outside of our typical workplace setting, and it felt really good knowing we had helped contribute to this beautiful, growing community garden. We’re excited to return and help again!”