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Due to “safer-at-home” mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time in First 5 LA history, the May 14 Board of Commissioners meeting was held telephonically.
“One of the things I don’t have to say these days, to anyone, is how serious the impacts of this pandemic have been on everyone. I know every commissioner, every staff person, everyone listening has had their own personal experience, and yet, in a strange way, how we have all been brought together in our common experience,” Commission Chair Sheila Kuehl said in her opening remarks. “And I thank everyone for everything they’re doing to keep everyone else safe and themselves safe.”
The last time the Board was together physically was on March 12, which also happened to be the last day before First 5 LA adopted a mandatory work-from-home policy. Noting this fact, Executive Director Kim Belshé updated the Board on the shifts in operations and focus that have taken place as a result of the pandemic.
“The team pivoted really quickly to the urgent work immediately before us: engaging our partners, reaching out to our many contractors and grantees, listening carefully to parents and providers, beginning engagement of our policymakers, and advancing really important and robust advocacy,” Belshé said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified inequities that exist in the systems that impact kids and families. Belshé spoke on this reality, saying that it is motivating First 5 LA’s work as a connector, funder, thought partner and systems change leader.
“First 5 LA is not just asking, ‘What’s wrong and how can I help?’ but ‘Why is it happening and how can we change it?’ Belshé said, paraphrasing the organizer Marshall Ganz.
Details on actions First 5 LA has taken over the course of the pandemic in response to the crisis can be found in the Executive Director Report here.
“You guys have done an outstanding job. I love the shift and focus on equity and sustainability, and the focus on our strategic direction and our strategic plan,” Commissioner Romalis Taylor commented.“And this shows that we have maintained that even in this time of crisis, which shows your ingenuity, leadership and innovative skills across the whole organization … kudos to you and the team.”
Next, Board Counsel Craig Steele and Executive Vice President John Wagner summarized a Board memo on actions Belshé undertook while exercising emergency executive authority during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The Board unanimously voted to ratify Belshé’s emergency actions. This will be an ongoing process as the pandemic continues to ensure that actions taken under emergency authority remain consistent and transparent with guidelines and strategic priorities established by the Board.
Following the vote, Belshé introduced a presentation about the framework First 5 LA has developed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Belshé summarized the three focuses of the framework, namely: 1) supporting First 5 LA staff, 2) supporting First 5 LA’s grantees and contractors and 3) supporting L.A. County kids and families.
“We’ve been super-clear that the nature of our work in the context of the pandemic is not about new, additive work,” Belshe said. “COVID-19 represents the new context within which we’re doing our work and our Strategic Plan has guided and continues to guide our response.”
To view the complete framework document, see pg. 2 of the Executive Director Report.
Peter Barth, who was recently promoted from policy and intergovernmental affairs director to a new interim role as Chief of Staff, updated the Board on the first focus of the framework: supporting First 5 LA staff. Barth gave an overview on how First 5 LA has adapted Human Resource policies, expanded Information Technology’s capacity to respond to remote work needs and utilized new internal communication avenues to support staff during this time.
Wagner updated the Board on the second aspect of the framework: supporting First 5 LA’s contracted partners, grantees and vendors. Acknowledging that First 5 LA partners are also being hit by challenges related to the pandemic, Wagner explained how First 5 LA adapted contracts and procedures to be flexible to meet these obstacles; amended scopes of work to be reflective of the pandemic’s reality; and implemented new electronic processes to support contractors with electronic payments methods and processes such as DocuSign.
Thirdly, Programs Vice President Christina Altmayer shared how First 5 LA is supporting families and communities during the pandemic through First 5 LA’s programmatic work and by way of being a convener, connector and systems change leader.
“This has been a really challenging time, we know, for families — particularly for those families that were already impacted by challenges within their communities, and by some systemic barriers that exist. We know that in many cases, that really exacerbated the impact,” Altmayer said. “I’m proud to highlight some of the work we’re doing in response to the pandemic.”
Examples highlighted by Altmayer have also been elevated through other communications avenues. To view more details about each story, please view 1) First 5 LA Plays Linchpin Role to Deliver Diapers to Families 2) Los Angeles CBS’s Program Would Distribute Food Boxes Directly from Farmers and 3) Los Angeles Partnership Plays Critical Need For Child Care Among Essential Workers.
The last item on the agenda, presented in written form, was on the establishment of a Strategic Partnership with the California Community Foundation Community Initiatives Fund in the form of $300,000 investment to reduce the gap in infant mortality rates between white and African American babies in L.A. County. This item will be voted on in the June Board meeting.
“I really want to express a lot of gratitude in the way that First 5 LA is moving,” Commissioner Karla Pleitez Howell said in the final comments. “All the updates today about how quickly we became mobilized to make sure we’re serving our communities is just deeply appreciated. Lots of gratitude for the staff for what they’re doing.”
The next Board of Commission meeting will be held on June 11. Details on how to attend virtually will be released closer to the date. Check first5la.org/calendar for more details.