Social Justice Fund Creates Change in Ventura County

By Kateri Wozny

There’s a nonprofit in town fighting for social justice issues in Ventura County.

The Social Justice Fund for Ventura County (SJFVC), a 501(c)(3), helps create systemic change that leads to equitable access to opportunities and resources through education, convening and grantmaking. The nonprofit was created in 2004 by a group of philanthropic and nonprofit leaders and has awarded about $450,000 in grants to local organizations since its inception.

“We’re really a fundraising organization that focuses on investments in Ventura County,” says Michael Teasdale, chair of SJFVC. “We allow people to really see change and they can affect people’s lives right here.” 

SJFVC currently consists of nine board members and invites other active individuals to join them.

“Everyone brings in different skill sets and that makes us such a strong board,” says Dr. Martha Martinez-Bravo, executive director for SJFVC. “Given that I was raised in a poor Mexican-American family with a father who was a farm worker and I also lived with a grandmother who had schizophrenia, I have firsthand experience as to the needs of marginalized communities and the prevalence of stigma within mental illness. My love for social justice is a function of who I am and my passion is held by hope. Hope that there are organizations such as the SJFVC who reach out to young lives in an attempt to change lives. We aim to empower leadership and we aim to be that helper that I needed as a child and as an adolescent.” 

The biggest role SJFVC board members perform each year is choosing a social justice theme and inviting organizations throughout Ventura County to apply for grant money. This year’s theme, “Vulnerable Children of Ventura County,” encompasses children who are LGBTQ, undocumented, homeless, disabled or foster care. The fundraising goal is set annually at $50,000.

“What we try to do is support youth and youth leadership to really engage students,” says Teasdale. “When we invest, we want to enhance the skills of youth so that they can transform their own environment and become active citizens.” 

Grants totaling $30,000 were given to the following six organizations to support their work:

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Ventura County CASA advocates work with foster youth between the ages of 18 to 21 to achieve an active and independent life. The grant will support life aspects, such as paying for rent, schooling and other monetary means. 

“Foster children don’t have the family support as they try to go independent,” says Teasdale. “We funded them to help youth become independent.”

Friends of Fieldworkers Grant money was given to support California State University – Channel Islands Encampment Scholarship for a fieldworker’s child and to provide professional development for this emerging organization. 

“This is a fairly new organization; they started due to the local fires (in October 2013),” says Martinez-Bravo. “We wanted to be able to provide the support so that they can do other work.”

Future Leaders of America (FLA) Through its empowerment program, FLA trains Latino youth to take pride in their culture and strengthen their leadership skills to be successful in academic, career and life choices. The children reside in underserved immigrant communities and encompass barriers, such as language, income, immigration status and resources. 

“Latinos from low-income and immigrant communities also advocate for a greater voice for their families in local elections and in the local school system,” says Martinez-Bravo.

Just Communities Central Coast The grant will support the Talking in Class program, which focuses on children in sixth grade through high school and addresses stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination before they lead to hate and violence.

New West Symphony Grant money was given to the performing arts organization‘s Laby Harmony Project, which supports Ventura Unified School District low-income students in third grade and up with music training and performance opportunities.

Padres Juntos Part of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest and largest national Hispanic civil rights organization in the U.S., Padres Juntos aims to educate English-language learning families through trainings in an effort to become an advocate in their disadvantaged community and for systemic changes in the Oxnard School District. In Oxnard, 93% of students in Grades K-8 are Latino.

“(Padres Juntos) educates the parents who are non-English speaking to help their children navigate into a school system,” says Teasdale. “They make sure if their kids want to go through college that they become effective advocates for their children’s education.”

The organizations were awarded their grants at SJFVC’s annual “Celebration of Social Activism” event in October at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo. Studio artists also donated their art along with silent and live auctions.

“That event was a celebration of social activism, to celebrate the grantees and acknowledge them and create a celebration for the community,” says Martinez-Bravo.

Teasdale says the board will soon start researching a new social justice theme for 2020. 

For more information or to donate to SJFVC, visit SocialJusticeFundVC.org.