Cal State LA students pledged to serve and give back to their communities during a virtual swearing-in ceremony Wednesday for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new statewide Civic Action Fellowship program. 

As part of the program, 19 upper division and graduate student fellows from Cal State LA will work with 10 nonprofit organizations in Southeast Los Angeles County to address environmental, economic development, health and education issues in neighborhoods abutting the 710 Freeway. 

“Our Civic Action fellows are ready to work with our nonprofit partners in these communities and to continue Gov. Newsom's and Cal State LA’s commitment to engagement and service for the public good,” Cal State LA Executive Vice President José A. Gómez said during the Oct. 14 ceremony. 

Gómez thanked the governor and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom for instilling a culture of public service across California. 

The Civic Action Fellowship program, which was announced in February, aims to encourage student dedication to community engagement and public service and help students pay for school. It is a partnership between the governor’s California Volunteers office, AmeriCorps and eight universities across the state. 

“We are really in a special time, a time when we need to call on young people to serve and give them the opportunities to do it in a way that also keeps them on track to graduate and makes college affordable,” said California’s Chief Service Officer Josh Fryday, who directs the California Volunteers office. 

“Thank you for stepping up in a big way.” 

During the event, state and AmeriCorps officials and university leaders praised the students for their commitment to service, underscoring the importance of their work to help improve the quality of life in communities across California. 

“You are part of the solution,” AmeriCorps CEO Barbara Stewart said to the student fellows. “You are really bringing out the best in America.” 

Students, tuning in via the Zoom video conferencing platform, were officially sworn in as AmeriCorps fellows, pledging an oath to strengthen communities. 

“I am the person who I am because of my community,” Cal State LA student Jessica Rodriguez Lazo said during a video highlighting the fellows. “It is not only a duty, but it’s my responsibility to give back to those who have given back to me and I am extremely grateful to work with my community.” 

Rodriguez Lazo, a Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies major, and the other Cal State LA fellows will work alongside nonprofits in Southeast Los Angeles County to help meet the diverse needs of the region’s historically underserved communities. 

The fellows will address crucial capacity needs that the nonprofit partners have identified as their greatest priorities. These areas include health, education and environmental justice. Building capacity will help the nonprofits fulfill their long-term missions and more effectively serve their communities. 

The importance of the initiative has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey by the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs (PBI) at Cal State LA highlighted the severe economic and public health impacts in Southeast Los Angeles as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. 

For the past several years, PBI has been on the steering committee of the SELA Collaborative, a group of nonprofits and other local organizations that aims to strengthen communities in Southeast L.A. through civic engagement and economic development initiatives. In recent months, Cal State LA has teamed up with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles and Optimum Seismic Inc. to offer free food distributions in the area to support families in need. 

The other universities participating in the Civic Action Fellowship program are Cal Lutheran, Dominican University of California, San Jose State, Stanislaus State, UC Berkeley, UC Merced and the University of the Pacific.