Camila Chávez wins Irvine Foundation Leadership Award
After spending her childhood on picket lines alongside her mother, iconic farm organizer Dolores Huerta, Camila Chávez embarked on a career in public health after graduating from Mills College in 1998.
“I worked my way up the chain, starting as a community outreach worker, then director, then director of the outreach and enrollment program through the Alameda County Health Services Agency,” Chávez said.
Then she realized that “the public health system is really broken”.
“I was really proud that we helped enroll thousands of families in these (health) programs, but they didn’t get the care they needed in the end,” Chávez said. “I felt stuck.”
It was then that she decided the best way to solve the problem was to shape politics. In 2003, she joined her mother to create the Dolores Huerta Foundation. Chávez is the executive director of the foundation.
“I thought to myself that I should learn something from my mother about this,” she said. “We wanted something that would teach people about community organizing and civic engagement.
“I had this great opportunity to learn directly from my mother.”
On February 7, Chávez was among seven recipients of the James Irvine Foundation 2022 Leadership Awards.
“This year’s Leadership Award recipients are an incredible group of leaders who represent the best of our state,” Governor Gavin Newsom said. “These Californians are demonstrating exceptional community leadership and innovation – illustrating to all how we can solve some of our most pressing challenges.”
Chávez received a $250,000 award for the James Irvine Foundation due to his recognition.
“It is definitely an honor to join the ranks of prestigious leaders from across California,” said Chávez, a niece of farmworker icon César E. Chávez. “It’s a great opportunity to share the good work we’ve done with the Dolores Huerta Foundation.”
The foundation – which has an annual budget of $5 million with 47 full-time staff and more than 100 seasonal canvassers – advocates for policy change in Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties as well as part of the north of Los Angeles County.
For the past two years, the foundation has been heavily involved in census outreach, get-out-the-vote efforts, and redistricting. He has also been heavily involved in COVID-19 vaccination and education efforts.
The foundation reached more than 84,000 residents to encourage them to fill out the census and fought misinformation when President Donald J. Trump tried to get a citizenship question on the census form.
Chávez said the 2020 elections posed a challenge due to the pandemic. The foundation provided information on where, how and when to vote.
The pandemic has also left a major need for direct assistance in obtaining food, protective equipment and information.
“We had to pivot as an organization,” Chávez said. “Historically, we have not been a direct service organization. This has changed.
” This has changed. We have had to step in on awareness and education, to get people PPE, especially essential workers who still have to keep working.
Work included distributing tablets and laptops to keep local leaders engaged, convincing schools to adjust free lunch programs, and maintaining communication between parents and school administrators.
The redistricting campaign, Chávez said, engaged more than 3,000 community members who participated in redistricting efforts at the state and local levels.
“These maps are important because they actually reflect the will of the people,” Chávez said. “We have three very effective congressional districts (in the Valley).”
Two state Senate districts and four Assembly districts adhere to the Voting Rights Act in that they have a majority of voters who are voting-age Latino citizens.
“These communities will now have a better chance of electing the candidates of their choice,” said Chávez, who is married and has children aged 10 and 6.
Chávez said she and her mother didn’t agree 100% on everything, but blamed it on “generational differences.”
“We have different styles, and she’ll be the first to tell you that we think differently,” said Chávez, who stressed that they worked well together.
The foundation is currently trying to wrap up a capital campaign to raise the final $7 million needed for the Dolores Huerta Peace & Justice Cultural Center. In addition to housing the foundation and other nonprofits, the two-story structure in downtown Bakersfield will include an auditorium, youth center, cultural center and outdoor event center .
Another recipient of the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award was Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement in Fresno.
Other recipients were Dr. Noha Aboelata, founder/CEO of Roots Community Health Center in Oakland; DeVone Boggan, Founder/CEO of Advance Peace; Serita Cox, co-founder/CEO of iFoster; and Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey, co-founders of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program.
“These pioneering leaders are an inspiration for what they have already accomplished for Californians and what they can accomplish in the future,” said Don Howard, president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation. “We are thrilled to highlight the promise of their efforts and help others take notice of their approaches.”