“What I Did on My Summer Vacation...”

Inaugural Cohort Reflects on First Community-Partnered Externships

September 1, 2021

As the summer comes to a close, so too do the externships in which the six members of Pardee RAND's inaugural Community-Partnered Policy and Action cohort participated.

Lisa Berdie, Priya Gandhi, and Zhan Okuda-Lim — traveled to Sitka, Alaska, to work with three organizations there and continue the partnerships that previous cohorts of students began.

At the same time, Jay Balagna, Khadesia Howell, and Rebecca Wolfe remained in California to work with community partners in southeast and south Los Angeles.

Each shared glowing reflections on their experiences.

Jay Balagna

I’ve really enjoyed my time working with the SELA Collaborative, a network of organizations working together to strengthen the capacity of the nonprofit sector and increase civic engagement in Southeast Los Angeles. They’ve really welcomed me into he team in a meaningful way and I’m enjoying my first glimpses into the kind of work a community-based organization like theirs does.

The work with SELA has shown me the importance of the core coursework we’ve taken so far at Pardee RAND, with a lot of my time spent doing more quantitatively focused things than I would’ve been able to handle without the classes from the first year.

I also appreciate the ways that folks from the collaborative have brought me into meetings and events outside the work I was doing, helping me to see the place nonprofit leaders can occupy in processes like COVID response and recovery in cooperation with local governments, county governance systems, and direct action. It’s motivating to see the kind of impact a group like this can have on a community at all these different levels.

I’m really grateful for the insight the experience is giving me into an important corner of a city I love and I’m looking forward to finding ways to continue the partnership with them after the externship ends.

Pictured, from left to right: Jay Balagna, SELA Collaborative Operations Coordinator Justin Pivaral, and SELA Associate Director Karla Fernandez, working at a Back-to-School Supply Giveaway event in Bell Gardens hosted by California State Senator Lena Gonzalez (D, 33rd District)

Lisa Berdie

I worked this summer in Sitka, partnering with the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, where we’re focused on finding ways to enhance the experience and outcomes for children and families supported by the Tribe’s Social Services Department.

It was eye-opening for me as I dig deeply into and learn about the complexity of the policies, legal frameworks, and intergovernmental agreements that impact and influence the Tribe’s work. I have so enjoyed seeing the Tribe’s incredible foundation and work this project seeks to grow and further!

It’s one of many examples of the strong, welcoming, and connected local community I’ve experienced in my short time here. I’m also grateful to the Sitka Sound Science Center for providing us externs space to work, and my newfound interest in aquaculture.

Lisa Berdie relaxes on one of Sitka's piers

Priya Gandhi

My research interests center around advancing health and racial equity. This summer, I completed a six-week externship with the Sitka Conservation Society, helping further embed equity considerations in local climate policies and practices, including supporting the City of Sitka’s Climate Action Task Force.

Having the opportunity to reside in the community during this externship has been incredible. I learned so much from the very welcoming members of the community about barriers to and drivers of equity, like the role of fishing in Sitka’s economy, access to food, and well-being and how fishing is impacted by changing climate patterns.

My fellow externs and I have also had opportunities to learn about salmon spawning processes at the Sitka Sound Science Center, observe halibut subsistence fishing, and support food distribution for elementary school-aged children and their families.

Priya Gandhi joined a member of the Sitka Sound Science Center to observe halibut long-line fishing

Zhan Okuda-Lim

Throughout my externship experience, the importance of community connections has been readily apparent. Learning from multiple community stakeholders across sectors has been an engaging experience, as has learning more about the local community at large.

For my externship project on city-wide composting in Sitka, the policy challenge is rooted in taking stock of existing resources; the policy opportunity is grounded in exploring how to maximize these resources alongside community connections across the private, nonprofit, and public sectors in order to start an early-stage composting operation.

With a focus on centering community-wide ideas and perspectives, the externship has highlighted the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Zhan Okuda-Lim in Sitka harbor

Khadesia Howell

My externship revolves around the anti-displacement planning and policy for the neighborhood of Watts in South Los Angeles, especially for those residents of Jordan Downs. This is a historical neighborhood that has changed with the times as far as demographics and is thriving in spite of how people may perceive it.

My role with the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Watts Rising Collaborative this summer was to not only get to know that community and what they may need but also serve as an ally who can help with connecting the thoughts and needs of the community to the policy work that is needed, so residents can stay in the neighborhood and/or buy a house in the neighborhood.

During my time thus far, I have been able to learn about what displacement looks like in Los Angeles and what all partners need to be involved to stop it. From local preference policies to homeownership programs, there are many ways to keep residents where they call home.

I’ve been blessed to be able to meet with major changemakers, from those at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) to Deputy Mayor Shockley, and to hear the voices of the residents to provide a different perspective and help implement solutions.

This work has inspired me to look at how this type of work can be implemented in other cities that may be going through similar things with their neighborhoods. I’m truly enjoying this externship and how it is making me think more critically about complex solutions.

Rebecca Wolfe

I have been working as an extern with TRUST South Los Angeles (TSLA). TSLA is a land trust dedicated to the stabilization of the neighborhoods in South Los Angeles via the removal of land from the speculative market and creation of pathways to ownership for local residents.

It's an exciting moment for the organization which, in partnership with the Los Angeles Community Land Trust Coalition, has successfully lobbied the Board of Supervisors for a CLT pilot program to the tune of $14 million dollars while actively mobilizing local community in support of the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA).

With my partners, I am building a case study to explore and elevate the role that coalition building and partnerships have played in their ability to fulfil their mission of an affordable, community-facing South Los Angeles. I’ve spent much of the past few weeks intensively compiling documents and reaching out to folks on the inside of the organization for their thoughts and perspectives.

Recently, I spent some time in a satellite office hosted by the Florence-Firestone Community Organization learning about the emergency rent assistance program. This week, I will spend a few days door-knocking in the Florence-Firestone community, trying to find residents who would qualify.

I’ve been learning a lot from people’s stories and am grateful for the time staff members have invested in me, despite the challenges of a mostly virtual environment!