Social justice organizations invite community members to apply for six-month leadership development program

Photo courtesy of Hazel Davalos
COMMUNITY BUILDING: Santa Barbara and Ventura county residents can apply for the Justice Leadership Institute to enhance their leadership skills, learn more about local policy building, and become more involved in social justice movements.

To get more members from historically marginalized communities serving in public leadership, the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) launched a program to better equip Santa Barbara and Ventura county residents.

“There can be so many personal and societal [influences] that prevent well intentioned people from serving in public leadership,” said Hazel Davalos, community organizing director for CAUSE. “I think we’re recognizing in particular that leaders who are people of color, who are women of color especially, need that extra support and a network that’s going to support their leadership.”

After a decade in the making, the Justice Leadership Institute is now a six-month program for community members of all ages where residents can learn about local social justice and public policy issues, how local government decisions are made, and the working relationships between community leaders and social movements, according to CAUSE’s website.

“Through the program, participants will learn about social justice and policy issues in our region and how to address those matters by navigating the local world of government to make an impact while staying grounded in their values,” CAUSE stated on its website. 

Davalos added that CAUSE partnered with the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project, Future Leaders of America, and the Fund for Santa Barbara this year to gain better reach into indigenous communities, provide bilingual sessions, enhance leadership training, and provide more networking opportunities, Davalos said. 

“These are four social justice organizations bringing the community together. We’re hoping to develop leaders rooted in social justice values,” she said. “I would also encourage leaders to look up any of the four organizations. All four have great opportunities for making a difference in your community and gaining leadership skills along the way.”

CAUSE will be accepting applications for this year’s Justice Leadership Institute following two informational sessions on May 23 and 25 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Zoom where residents can learn more about the program, get a cost breakdown, and ask questions, Davalos said.

Residents will go through an application process that will look at their plans for using this training in the future and what they’d like to do to impact their communities. Program sessions will be held every two weeks in the evening from July until January for about two hours to help develop leadership skills, she added.

“There’s an aspect of issues-based training and getting to know the local kind of social justice ecosystem. We’ll have speakers that are experts on issues varying from environmental justice, youth empowerment, criminal justice reform, working with indigenous communities, housing, and labor and workers’ issues,” Davalos said.

The program will also provide budget training and information sessions about serving on boards or committees and how local policies are made, as well as give participants the time to create personal mission statements and identify values participants want to follow within their future jobs, she said. 

After the experience, Davalos said she hopes people take a step toward a leadership role and know that they feel supported by a greater social justice network. 

“I think our real hope is that folks leave this program ready to take a leap. Apply for that job. Join that nonprofit board. Take up space. Be a little more visible,” Davalos said.

Email [email protected] to RSVP for one of the virtual info-sessions. 


• The Santa Maria Public Library partnered with financial professionals Naomi and Randy Altergott from the World Financial Group to offer four free workshops on financial literacy skills. These workshops will be held every Tuesday in May at 4 p.m. in the Library’s Learning Center. Topics include preparing with proper protection on May 9, health and wealth on May 16, understanding asset accumulation strategies on May 23, and fulfilling long-term goals on May 30. The library is located at 421 South McClelland St. Register online at or call (805) 925-0994, Ext. 8562. 

• Six Santa Maria-Bonita School District third graders won this year’s Water Awareness Poster contest, and their colorful works are now on display at Santa Maria City Hall and will later be online. Mayor Alice Patino proclaimed May 2023 as Water Awareness Month, urging all Santa Marians to do their part to conserve and preserve. To commemorate the month, 8- and  9-year-olds across the community participated in the 12th annual water awareness poster contest where their colorful and thoughtful artwork highlighted conservation tips and celebrated water as a precious resource. Winners in each category received trophies, prizes, and certificates from the Utilities Department, along with other prizes donated from sponsors American General Media, Boomers, Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, Emerald Wave Media, the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, and Rockin’ Jump. Winners were announced on May 2, and a collage of the winning posters is featured at City Hall for the remainder of Water Awareness Month.

Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor at [email protected].