Creating the change they want to see

Story & photos by John Iwasaki

The 27th floor observation deck at Los Angeles City Hall offers a panoramic view of the metropolis. From there, it's natural to contemplate your place in the world, especially when you want to change it.

The observation deck at Los Angeles City Hall draws in a girl who attended World Vision's advocacy training.

The observation deck at Los Angeles City Hall draws in a girl who attended World Vision's advocacy training.

Among the recent visitors was Ziptaly Torres, a student at California State University in Northridge.

"I do want to make an impact on youth," she said. "We try to focus on how to reach our communities."

Torres was among two dozen students, pastors, and community organization representatives who attended an advocacy training in Los Angeles organized by World Vision's U.S. Programs.

The five-hour, interactive training helped attendees think about changes they want to see in their communities. They received tools and inspiration to get started by discussing such questions as:

Attendees listened to three speakers—a political consultant, legislative staff member, and community organizer—and visited the office of a Los Angeles City Councilmember.

After dividing attendees into discussion groups, political consultant Felipe Agredano-Lozano asked each to list issues important to them and their communities.

The responses ranged from more youth programs to equal access to technology to quicker police response.

Political consultant Felipe Agredano-Lozano (right) urges attendees to know their elected officials

Political consultant Felipe Agredano-Lozano (right) urges attendees to know their elected officials

"We want to bring the church and community together and not be separate," Torres said as others concurred.

The notion that a wall prevents people of faith from engaging with public institutions is "a false separation," Agredano-Lozano said. "We should be talking to the police department, the fire department."

He urged attendees to know their elected officials and others in influential positions.

"Once a year, invite the police chief to a prayer breakfast and say, 'I want to tell you about things happening in our community,'" Agredano-Lozano said.

Building a relationship may pay off later when a public agency has funding for community initiatives and is looking for partners, he said: "Who are they going to contact? They know you; they respect you."

German Perez, 22, a graduate student at Biola University, said his discussion group's top priority is getting more afterschool programs in neighborhood centers and churches, which would require the involvement of "people in the community."

"People in the community? Like who?" responded Agredano-Lozano. "You're one of the people in the community. So it could be you."

He encouraged Perez, an aspiring filmmaker enrolled in Biola's cinema and media arts program, to use his talents to raise awareness of needs.

Attendees visit the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo.

Attendees visit the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo.

Another presenter, Miguel Martinez, gave guidance on lobbying public officials, which could be as simple as making a phone call to a lawmaker's office.

"We don't know things are happening unless you tell us they're happening," said Martinez, senior deputy for state Assemblyman John Perez of Los Angeles. "Don't assume we already know."

For public officials, "25 phone calls [on the same issue] is a red flag for us," Martinez continued. "Something's going on."

Presenter Lisa Lockwood reiterated that "change can happen when you talk to the right people" and encouraged attendees to "help make our communities the way God intended them to be."

She is an organizer for LA Voice, an interfaith, community organization with the goal of uniting people of diverse backgrounds to improve the quality of life for Los Angeles residents.

"Power is the product of relationships," Lockwood said. "Start to develop relationships in your community." She says organizing means "bringing our pain and passion into the public in such a way that [those with influence] are compelled to act."

Young people can play a vital role in making change happen, said Zach Hoover, executive director of LA Voice: "Some of the strongest organizers are youths—the kids who say, 'We want our school to be better, because we're the ones impacted.'"

The center of the floor at Los Angeles City Hall features a bronze depiction of a Spanish ship that sailed into California ports several centuries ago.

The center of the floor at Los Angeles City Hall features a bronze depiction of a Spanish ship that sailed into California ports several centuries ago.

After visiting with the district director of Los Angeles City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, attendees took in the view from the City Hall observation deck before a closing session with Romanita Hairston, vice president of World Vision's U.S. Programs.

"The work of justice, mercy, and compassion" needs to be done by everyone, not just those in government, Hairston said, because society loses "if we leave it to the people who are paid."

The Rev. Margarita Reyes, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Rosemead, found the training insightful.

"If we don't know how to ask, we're going to stay in the shadows," she said. "Many times I have to stay quiet, because I don't know to whom to address my concerns. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the program."

A week later, the training continued to resonate with German Perez.

"I believe that this event really inspired me to take action, and by doing so, I can make a difference in my community," he said. "It doesn't require much from someone at the start. One just has to be willing to take a stand...

"Our community leaders are available to help us. All we have to do is ask. I feel what Jesus says we must do—'Ask and you shall receive, knock and the door will be opened'—applies to us [not only spiritually, but] in other ways as well."

 

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