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What are the James Irvine Foundation leadership awards?

The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards recognize Californians who are implementing effective solutions to critical state issues. The awards advance innovative, proven and replicable solutions, and contribute to better public policies and practices in the field.

The Foundation provides each award recipient’s organization with $200,000 to support his or her work, and assists in sharing their promising approaches with policymakers and practitioners. 

Meet the Grantees:



The State of California is horrific in regards to low-income housing availability. Homeless mothers pay the ultimate sacrifice when they lose permanent custody of their children and are systematically barred from meeting the main threshold requirements for reunification. Kim Carter has found a way out. As the founder, she innovated a housing continuum that began with emergency shelters and presently builds affordable housing for women who have criminal backgrounds that disqualifies them from renting. Kim’s solution was simple – homeless women need a home where they can heal, regain self-sufficiency and provide for the emotional needs of their children.

susana de anda & laurel firestone

community water center

Susana De Anda and Laurel Firestone founded the Community Water Center with a single mission: to ensure that every Californian has access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water. Their efforts have resulted in the nation’s first Human Right to Water law; empowerment of hundreds of residents to advocate for drinking water solutions; training and placement of more than 20 low-income people of color on local and regional water boards; funding of numerous short and long-term solutions to California’s drinking water crisis; and tough new requirements to protect groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley.



Approximately 100,000 men, women, and transgender immigrants are held in civil immigration detention each year in California. That is a quarter of the total number of people detained throughout the United States per year. Although lacking proper documentation is not a crime, these individuals are detained for months and sometimes years in county jails and for-profit prisons. Freedom For Immigrants, headquartered in California, is the national immigration detention visitation network, which is working to end U.S. immigration detention by monitoring human rights abuses, elevating stories, building community-based alternatives to detention, and advocating for system change.



Teens Exploring Technology (TXT) teaches Black and Latino inner city teenage boys coding skills as a way to foster youth development, tech entrepreneurs and community leaders. TXT’s youth-directed, hands-on curriculum paves the way to higher education and careers in Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). The program provides technical skills, support and confidence young men of color need to attend college and enter the tech industry through a summer leadership coding academy, after-school programs, a community hackerspace and more. TXT collaborates with tech companies and professionals, churches, schools and universities to open a world of possibilities to under-served young men.



In 2009, Dr. Teresa Smith founded Dreams for Change, a nonprofit located in San Diego to initially assist families and individuals adversely affected by the financial downturn and were living in their vehicles. Dreams for Change (DfC) provides a Safe Parking Program to assist those living in their vehicle obtain housing, and a workforce development program that uses three food trucks to provide meals for the homeless and food-insecure seniors. Integrated through all programming is the use of asset building strategies through education, coaching, benefits and free tax preparation for the Earned Income Tax Credit.



For over 40 years, Anthony Thigpenn has worked to amplify the voices of those who are underrepresented in policy decision-making: young people, communities of color, and those from poor and working class neighborhoods. He leads California Calls (formerly the California Alliance), which was launched in 2003 and has grown into a powerful network of 31 community organizations that motivates civic participation through grassroots organizing. Mr. Thigpenn has also led Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education and Los Angeles Metropolitan Alliance – work all aimed at making the California dream of equality, opportunity, and prosperity accessible to all.