How the Dodgers Foundation and UCLA Health partnership supports Los Angeles youth

A Q&A with Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation CEO Nichol Whiteman

UCLA Health was named the official medical partner to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019, beginning a multiyear relationship in which UCLA Health physicians began providing care to players in 2020. The two organizations have also committed to partnering on services to benefit the community.

With equity as a guiding principle, the collaboration allows for a more meaningful impact on youth and their families, says Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation (LADF) CEO Nichol Whiteman.

In this Q&A, Whiteman discusses how UCLA Health and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation are aligned in their approach to a healthier Los Angeles:

Q: How does the UCLA Health partnership help the LADF fulfill its mission of improving education, health care, social justice and homelessness in Los Angeles?

Nichol Whiteman (NW): With a multi-faceted approach that includes research, health, recreation efforts and virtual learning for children and their families, LADF thrives thanks to partners like UCLA who share our vision for a stronger Los Angeles.

In late 2019, LADF awarded UCLA Health pediatrician Rebecca Dudoviz, MD, a research grant to determine best practices for physical education, which shifted in March 2020 to include distance learning due to the pandemic.

Our programs rely on direct and consistent interaction with youth and families. With full respect for science, we paused our in-person engagement. However, we could not simply leave our participants alone during such a critical time.

We extended this research to assess whether access to personal fitness trackers would increase physical activity among high-risk adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic and improve health equity. We are simultaneously providing programs, while also collecting data and research on how to better serve our participants.

Q: How did the pandemic shift LADF’s priorities and resources?

NW: Once we learned that the city would pause large, in-person events, LADF thought about the tremendous impact that this would have on our participants and their families. Many of the youth who we serve cannot afford to go without the mentorship and leadership development resources that we provide.

With the most vulnerable youth in mind, LADF shifted a significant portion of our in-person programming to a virtual setting.

And while most of their pre-pandemic special events were education and recreation-based, our team understood the importance of being on the frontlines to provide necessities like food and hygiene products for families to survive.

Generous product donations from UCLA Health and other allies allowed us to distribute more than 3.98 million meals and $2.2 million in in-kind products through drive-through events throughout the city.

Q: What is LADF working on for 2021?

NW: Although we’re slowly returning to pre-pandemic activities, we plan to implement a combination of our traditional efforts and programming shaped by our pandemic response. To increase our online programming, we partnered with UCLA Health Sports Performance powered by EXOS to host live virtual fitness clinics, and hope to continue providing the option for families to engage in person or virtually.

The majority of youth supported by LADF are in the Los Angeles Unified, Compton Unified, Inglewood Unified and Green Dot Public Schools districts, or are not part of a school-based program. The organization has cautiously begun holding in-person events while continuing to prioritize the community’s need for food and basic hygiene supplies.

Prior to the pandemic, many of our families struggled financially. Considering the devastating blow to the economy, many parents have yet to find their footing. We will continue our drive-through distribution events, which allow us to help neighborhoods that need resources the most.

Q: Tell us about your partnership with UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind. How do the missions align?

NW: Through our partnership with UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, LADF began distributing at-home fitness kits to all 500 youth of KIPP Academy of Innovation in East Los Angeles.

The kits include a reusable bag, water bottle, frisbee, jump rope, whiffle ball, cones, a yoga mat, a rubber playground ball, a resistance band, a mask, and hand sanitizer. Also included were educational materials, SBSM’s nutrition curriculum, four weeks of at-home workouts, and health tips for parents (available in English and Spanish).

Considering the pandemic’s enormous toll on the physical and emotional health of young people, these tools are focused on overall fitness. Research shows that sports and recreation play a huge role in supporting young people’s mental health as well.

Q: How does the Dodgers Foundation take equity, diversity and inclusion into account?

NW: Through social and emotional learning, LADF provides the tools for youth to thrive in the classroom, on the field and in their future personal and educational endeavors.

One of the many ways that we achieve our mission is through efforts like Dodgers RBI, a youth development program which uses sport as a vehicle to provide critical resources and services to communities where residents endure the repercussions of social injustice.

Prior to the pandemic, we were already engaged with communities in Watts, East LA, South LA, and other neighborhoods that have a history of dwindling social and economic resources. We also recognize that as a globally-recognized leader, we cannot afford to stay silent on issues related to equity, diversion and inclusion.

While LADF’s mission will always have a recreation, education, health and wellness focus, we will do so under a lens that keeps the fight for social justice as a priority.

Q: What are some of the other ways LADF and UCLA Health partner together?

NW: In 2019, LADF dedicated three Kenley’s Lockers at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital through a $90,000 grant to the Kenley Jansen Foundation. Included in the lockers are Jansen-themed decals, Nintendo Switch consoles with games, iPads, Build-A-Bears and other toys for kids at the hospital to enjoy.

LADF hosted a Back-to-School Bash at Dodger Stadium [in 2020] where we provided 200 health kits – including masks, hand sanitizer, and sports/fitness equipment. We have also proudly collaborated with the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program, where we partnered with four virtual coach trainings with more than 400 people in attendance.

The donations and visibility that UCLA Health provide extends our reach. The LADF team is always grateful to partner with a global symbol of excellence.

What makes our relationship even more magical is that UCLA also encourages their staff to volunteer, as they so graciously did when we helped Magic Johnson Park unveil their multi-million renovation project. In addition to celebrating the wealth of resources that are planned for families to enjoy, UCLA Health has been right on the front lines with us since the pandemic hit, distributing hygiene kits and more to youth and families.

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