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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:



Raised in public housing, Sherilyn Adams was impacted by family violence, mental illness, and substance abuse from an early age. Her experiences drove her passion to end homelessness. Now at Larkin Street Youth Services, Adams is committed to ensuring that youth’s voices are heard and that lawmakers understand the unique needs of youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco and across the state. The nonprofit offers comprehensive support systems (drop-in services, emergency shelter, transitional housing) and youth leadership development. Larkin Street has served more than 75,000 youth and provides two-thirds of all available housing for youth homeless in San Francisco. More than 80 percent of young people who complete their programs exit to stable housing, and nearly 90 percent were employed or enrolled in higher education.



The 2007 failure of South LA’s sole public hospital was yet another example of leaders failing a community that experiencing various racial disparities. Coronary heart disease and stroke mortality rates are 30-percent higher than in the county overall, and the median individual income is half the state average. Dr. Elaine Batchlor has led an effort to build the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH), a private state-of-the-art hospital that opened in 2015. Thanks to her commitment to a hospital-wide culture of innovation and excellence, MLKCH provides quality care comparable to hospitals in more affluent communities, transforming the health of the residents of South LA. MLKCH is one of only 6.4 percent of U.S. hospitals to achieve the highest level of recognition for use of electronic health information, and it ranks among the top 10 percent for patient satisfaction nationwide.



This year marks the first time that there are more people in America over age 60 than under age 18. California’s own aging population is set to grow 87 percent in the next two decades, and many fear the consequences. Inspired by her personal experience – and 20 years working in the field – Eunice Lin Nichols helps organizations and governments leverage this experienced population as an asset to young people and our state. Nichols leads Encore.org’s Generation to Generation (Gen2Gen) campaign to engage 1 million adults over 50 in the lives of young people — building bridges across differences of age, race, and income; improving life for older and younger generations; and creating a better future for all. More than 215 partner organizations throughout California and the nation have joined Gen2Gen’s campaign to positively impact lives. For example, FIRST 5 Santa Clara County is expanding its use of older volunteers from six family resource centers to all 27. Soon, 200 older volunteers there will help 650 young children thrive.



On any given night, 130,000 Californians are homeless. When Eileen Richardson, the former CEO of Napster, took a break from the tech industry and volunteered at a local food bank, she saw individuals experiencing homelessness often losing their sense of dignity while living on the street. Guided by the principle that everyone can become a proud, productive member of their community, Richardson created Downtown Streets Team (DST). Participants experiencing homelessness volunteer up to 20 hours a week to clean streets in return for case management, job training, employment services, and stipends to transition from homelessness to permanent housing. This approach renews dignity and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. The organization serves more than 1,000 individuals across a dozen California cities, and nearly nine in 10 (88 percent) graduates from DST’s work experience program retain employment for 90 days or more.



The growing number of young people in the Central Valley are full of ideas and promise, but they are often overlooked as adults make decisions. They also face unique obstacles: higher-than-average rates of drug and alcohol abuse, lower-than-average college readiness, etc. Yammilette G. Rodriguez, the daughter of immigrants and inspired by her mentors from her youth, recognized the need to invest in young people to inform policies that could affect their lives. At Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), Rodriguez empowers underrepresented youth to advocate for the needs of their community, equips them with tools to become civically engaged, and provides a platform for youth to engage directly with elected officials. The organization works collaboratively with more than 2,000 high school students statewide each year and has achieved more than 120 policy victories, including successfully advocating for Fresno Unified to become a Sanctuary School District.