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New Generation of Health Advocates Invested in their Communities

Kaiser Permanente’s Watts Counseling and Learning Center awards record $50,000 in scholarships

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Kaiser Permanente’s Watts Counseling and Learning Center awards record $50,000 in scholarships

Back row, left to right: Michael Romero, Angela Coron, managing director, Kaiser Permanente Southern California Community Benefit, Joanne Robinson, executive director, Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center, James Branchick, senior vice president and area manager, Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center, Trent Nettles. Front row, left to right: Jazmin Quezada, Brittney Alvarado, Chioma Abaekobe, Kennedy Moore, Jesus Serna

Chioma Abaekobe’s heart sank every time she walked by Jefferson Park in South Los Angeles. What was once a safe, open space she enjoyed as a child had become a run-down area over the years, taken over by transients and drug dealers. Instead of turning her back on the situation, the King-Drew Medical Magnet High School senior decided to form a youth committee to organize a series of Park Clean-up Days, rallying friends and families from the local community to help reclaim their neighborhood park.

Abaekobe is one of seven college-bound high school seniors from the greater South Los Angeles area honored with the 2016 Bill Coggins Community Leadership Award for exceptional service to their local communities.

Her project is an example of how the environment can significantly impact a person’s health. “I really loved going to the park every day after school when I was little. I have some great memories there,” says Abaekobe, who will attend the University of California, Riverside this fall. “The park was a great place for my friends and me to laugh and play, and just be kids. It really disturbed me that kids didn’t have that anymore,” she says. “After three clean-up sessions, we started to notice that other community members were also doing their part to keep the park clean. We all want to have a safe, clean place to play.”

Abaekobe and her fellow honorees made their way to the Rio Hondo Event Center in Downey, California, recently to receive their scholarships. This year, for the first time, an increased total of $50,000 was awarded to seven students; four each receiving $5,000 and three students each receiving $10,000. The scholarships were all funded by Kaiser Permanente Southern California   Community Benefit through the Watts Counseling and Learning Center and the Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center. The increased amount is in honor of the Center's upcoming 50th anniversary in 2017.

Named after the founding director of the Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center, the Bill Coggins Community Leadership Award was created to honor community leadership and help young people reach their next educational milestone.

This year’s recipients will be attending Marist College in New York, Loyola Marymount University, University of California, Berkeley, University of California, Davis, University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) and University of California, Riverside.

During the scholarship award reception, the students discussed their projects, ranging from advocating for women’s rights to teaching music to students with special needs. They also shared their plans for the next 20 years.

“I will definitely be Dr. Chioma Abaekobe,” beamed the young awardee. Once in college, Abaekobe plans to major in biology and pursue a career in medicine as a dermatologist. She also plans to remain active in her community, and take part in every volunteer opportunity she can.

Trent Nettles, who recently graduated from Alliance Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy High School in South Los Angeles, received a $10,000 scholarship for leading an initiative to raise $40,000 to help low-income students pay for their senior activities like prom and grad night. “My goal is to help bring opportunities to Watts that are available in other communities,” says the incoming freshman who will attend UCLA this fall. “I will always remember to give back to the community that cultivated me.”

The Watts Counseling and Learning Center is a nonprofit community benefit program of Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Since 1967, the Center has provided counseling, outreach, and educational services to the residents of the Watts community. More than 80 percent of the program participants are non-Kaiser Permanente members.

Read more about the Watts Counseling and Learning Center history.

For more information about the Bill Coggins Community Leadership Award, visit  community.kp.org  or contact Maria T. Aguirre via email at maria.t.aguirre@kp.org. Since the establishment of the award in 1997, the Watts Counseling and Learning Center has given approximately $300,000 to outstanding community leaders.


2016 Bill Coggins Community Leadership Awards
Student Profiles

Chioma Abaekobe, King Drew High School
Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Chioma Abaekobe is a senior at King Drew High School in Watts and will be attending the University of California, Riverside, in the fall. Abaekobe is an active member of her community and has created change through her involvement in various community service groups.  She established a youth committee focused on the clean-up of Jefferson Park and has dedicated herself to making it a safe and healthy environment for the people of her community.

In her personal statement, she writes, “Through school and my participation in my community, I have found that I base my happiness on the achievements of those I have helped. Each person I help and each activity I contribute to becomes a part of me.” As a member of STRIDE (Students in Training in Research Involving Disparity Elimination), a highly competitive research group at Charles Drew University, Abaekobe aims to “increase the number of underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students in the Watts community who are committed to research careers in the health sciences.”

Through her instruction of stress reduction techniques and coping skills as well as her involvement with Jefferson Park, Abaekobe realized her passion for health sciences. As a Senior Mentor, she aspires to help others realize their passions, raise awareness, and provide access to opportunities that help them foster their interests. Her involvement with Peer Mediators and Peer Advocates has allowed her to become involved in her high school community and to resolve conflicts in a healthy and safe manner. Her teacher, Dr. Karl Graeber writes, “[Chioma] is well liked at school because of her optimism, her determination, and her friendly demeanor. Her peers see her as a reliable, loyal friend.”

Brittney Alvarado, South East High School
Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Brittney Alvarado is a senior at South East High School in South Gate and will be attending the University of California, Davis in the fall. Alvarado has involved herself in her high school community through her position as an unofficial teacher’s assistant in the music department. During her sophomore year, she took interest in assisting the special-education students in her orchestra class and has been doing so ever since. Her dedication has helped many students overcome their disabilities and excel in the field of music.

In her personal statement, she writes, “There is nothing like walking away from a student and looking over to see them engaged in practicing even if their classmates are distracted.” With all of Alvarado’s hard work, she has boosted the confidence of students in the special education program and has helped them to challenge themselves in order to grow as both musicians and people. She has served as a Peer College Counselor, helping others to realize their passions and gain opportunities for brighter futures.

Alvarado also has an impressive academic record. She has been on the Honor Roll throughout her high school career and is a four-year member of the USC Upward Bound Math-Science Program, in which she was recognized as an academic achiever. Alvarado is also the co-founder and president of the United by Faith club at South East High School and is an active member in her church community. To quote her college counselor, Jennifer Adrian-Thiroux, “I am convinced that a college-educated Brittney Alvarado will be a powerful and impactful force for positive change in her family and her community.”

Jazmin Quezada, King Drew High School
Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Jazmin Quezada is a senior at King Drew High School in Watts and will be attending Loyola Marymount University in the fall. Jazmin was one of a select group of students chosen to conduct biomedical research at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles in the summer of her junior year. Here, her love for the sciences blossomed and her knowledge in the field of research grew exponentially.

In order to create awareness and increase involvement in this program, Jazmin signed up to present at King Drew’s Career Day, which she claimed pushed the limits of her comfort zone. She drew the attention of her classmates with her presentation on biomedical research in relation to X-Men, explaining how biomedical research can allow us to understand how mutations can bring about special abilities in humans.

In her personal statement, Quezada writes, “I was impressed with what I was able to accomplish that day. I was encouraged and motivated by the change and impact of the power of knowledge.” Quezada also took a leadership role in King Drew High School’s annual Women’s Day, as she was one of the only student presenters.

She has served as a College Peer Counselor and has developed great leadership skills throughout her time at King Drew. Her teacher, Neil Monaco, noted “This young lady is one of the most mature and considerate students I have had the pleasure to meet in fifteen years at King Drew High School. I have no doubt that Jazmin will continue to excel in all her future endeavors.”

Michael Romero, Verbum Dei High School
Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Michael Romero is a senior at Verbum Dei High School in Watts and will be attending Marist College in the fall. Michael has been elected to the Associated Student Body of Verbum Dei High School every year of his high school career, and in his senior year, he serves as the 45th Associated Student Body President of Verbum Dei.

As a member of Mayor Garcetti’s Los Angeles Mayor Youth Council, he serves as the voice for the youth of South Los Angeles. Throughout his high school career, Michael’s interest in Political Science has grown, thanks to his participation in the Mayor’s Council, student government and college counseling. As a student ambassador he was able to share his high school success story and spread awareness of the amazing opportunities Verbum Dei has to offer.

Romero has been recognized on both the Dean’s and Principal’s Lists for his outstanding academic achievements. He is employed by the California Science Center through Verbum Dei’s Corporate Work Study Program, has spent two years interning for the Los Angeles Police Department, and has completed an impressive five hundred Christian service hours. Romero’s counselor, Martinique Starnes states, “He is a strong student academically, is a positive influence on his peers, and is highly interested in politics. I know that he will be able to handle all that is presented and I am excited for what the future holds for him.”

Trent Nettles, Alliance Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy High School
Scholarship Amount: $10,000

Trent Nettles is a senior at Alliance Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy High School in Watts and will be attending UCLA in the fall. Nettles has an outstanding academic record, including the completion of seven Advanced Placement courses. He has been recognized as the class valedictorian with an admirable 4.39 GPA. Nettles has received countless awards recognizing his excellence in academics, including Math, Science, and English awards.

Nettles was also selected as a finalist to be a Posse Scholar at the University of California, Berkley in the fall of 2016. He has served as the class president throughout all four years of his high school career and currently serves as the student body president. He established a committee whose purpose is to hear out the students of Alliance Cindy and Bill Simon Tech and to give them a voice in the planning of events in order to improve the school spirit around campus.

Knowing that many parents struggled to pay for special trips or events, Nettles and his committee organized forty-five fundraisers in order to raise twenty-five thousand dollars for his senior class, allowing the members of the graduating class to participate in memorable senior activities and field trips. This built a tight-knit environment among the senior class, allowing them to become a family, despite the difficult conditions.

Nettles writes in his personal statement, “I will never forget my background. Despite growing up in a challenging environment with all the odds stacked against me, Watts has shaped me into someone who is resilient, someone who knows how to manage and recover from setbacks, and someone who can uplift the people who surround them.” And finally, to quote his teacher, Jaime Hahn, “Trent has shattered all expectations and continues to impress his peers, teachers, and administrators with his likability, his ability to speak eloquently…, and the dignity and class with which he carries himself.”

Jesus Serna, Animo College Preparatory Academy High School
Scholarship Amount: $10,000

Jesus Serna is a senior at Animo College Preparatory Academy High School in Watts and will be attending the University of California, Berkeley in the fall. Having overcome his own literary obstacles, Serna’s desire to help others drove him to join a literacy program at his local park. This program allows children to receive tutoring and special attention devoted to reading that they may not be given at home.

His dedication to helping children learn to read and to love reading is extremely admirable. In his personal statement, he writes, “I’m committed to help them commit,” and “That is my commitment: my commitment to change the perception of what it means to be a minority growing up in South Central LA; my commitment to be a role model that will demonstrate that we black and brown students can be more than what we believe; but most importantly, my commitment to help the children at Washington Park commit to their education, even if it’s one book at a time.”

Serna will be graduating with an incredible 4.33 GPA and has excelled in his scholastic endeavors. To quote his counselor, Johnisha Walker, “Jesus is a natural born leader. He consistently encourages everyone around him to strive for greatness.”

Kennedy Moore, King Drew High School
Scholarship Amount: $10,000

Kennedy Moore is a senior at King Drew High School in Watts and will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the fall. She has established her presence in the community at King Drew High School through her roles within the Associated Student Body, especially through her participation in King Drew’s Women’s Day. Her involvement in Women’s Day greatly expanded her interests in gender inequity and fueled her desire to create change.

In her junior year, Moore chose to join the cabinet that establishes and runs King Drew’s Women’s Day, and now currently serves as the student coordinator of that cabinet. Through this position and those she has held in the Associated Student Body, she has become a strong leader in her community and has used these roles to enact positive change. In her personal statement, she writes, “In life, I’ve learned that you can think about change, you can talk about change, or you can make change. And I’ve set out to dedicate my life to be about making change.”

Not only is Moore successful in her community involvement, but she has displayed academic prowess in her completion of nine Advanced Placement courses over her high school career. To quote her college advisor, Lisa R. Golden, “What I admire most about Kennedy is that she could easily brag and boast about her scholastic success; however, she possesses admirable humility rarely found in such an accomplished student given her age. Kennedy allows her record to speak for itself; she uses her words to encourage others and ask questions that will deepen her knowledge about a particular subject.”