The impact of the Neighborhood Councils is visible all over Los Angeles. Looking back on a year of Neighborhood Council achievements makes for an impressive list of examples of civic engagement. Ten of these stand-out Neighborhood Councils were celebrated at the annual EmpowerLA Awards in the City Council Chambers on Wednesday.

Councilman Paul Krekorian proclaimed to the Council Chamber, “I just love these awards,” praising the 95 Neighborhood Councils who “give voice to our neighborhoods and our communities. It’s a vehicle for activism that really works in engaging neighborhood in partnership with city government.”

This year’s award recipients all embodied the initiative and can-do attitude needed to create momentum for change, said Councilman Bob Blumenfield, whose district includes the Reseda Neighborhood Council. “[They] say, we’ve got a community problem in our district, and we’re going to solve it together. We’re going to find solutions. We’re not going to wait for the outside world to solve our problems.”

What kinds of problems did Neighborhood Councils tackle this year?

Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council took to heart something President Patricia Berman likes to say: “don’t wait for the City to do something for you; get out there and do something for yourself.” With this in mind, the take-charge group has had a string of public policy successes, most notably the opening of Spring Street Park between 4th and 5th Streets, as well as a two parklets along the same corridor! What is also great is that they are working with ALL the populations of downtown – for example, organizing a high-level Town Hall on the TB outbreak of a few months ago and an ongoing Skid Row resident-led Clean-Up Campaign to address needs on Skid Row. They are helping vulnerable homeless populations in the most powerful of ways– through direct engagement, involvement, and empowerment.

Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council has worked hard over the past year to elevate its presence and connect with stakeholders in the neighborhood and surrounding areas. They are an inspiration to all Neighborhood Councils struggling to engage their communities. Under the new board leadership, including the very effective President Monica Alcaraz, the community has come out in droves to candidate forums (one offered in two languages), business mixers and meetings where they focus squarely on addressing local needs. Since their stepped-up focus on outreach began, hundreds of people have participated in their activities which they attribute to relevance, savvy social media efforts, and sweat equity invested in getting people to come out.

Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council has effectively galvanized their community to address the needs of youth. Most impressive was their work to create “Pathways to Employment,” an event in partnership with San Pedro Rotary and Harbor Communities Benefit Foundation to provide this important population with employment skills through training workshops, practice interviews, and presentations by many of the 36 businesses present. In addition to addressing the career needs of youth, they are providing recreational options as well through the soon-to-be-opened skate park at Peck Park, a project which they initiated and worked with the Council Office and Department of Recreation and Parks to realize.

Northridge West Neighborhood Council will celebrate three years of Operation Clean Sweep with eight to fifteen volunteers showing up every week on Thursday for four hours to clean sidewalks, parkways, and gutters. How many NCs can boast this kind of consistency in the work to make their community a more beautiful and walkable place? Subscribing to the broken window theory, they have had a big impact on the local crime rate by ensuring their neighborhood is well cared for.

Reseda Neighborhood Council’s Economic Development Committee in 2011 began discussing the downward trend in the economy and what sort of community level initiatives could be helpful to small businesses in Reseda. After researching successful small business development efforts across the country, they launched a local program on their own (Spend $25 on the 25th in Reseda). It caught the attention of the citywide ShopLA program and American Express, both of which then partnered with ShopRESEDA. In conjunction with these efforts, the ShopRESEDA Discount Card was launched at a national news conference and now includes 200 local business partners (ShopResedaCity.com). This concept of “shopping local” has successfully encouraged a lasting sense of community pride and spirit as well as encouraging more participants in Reseda’s local economy to engage in the NC process and the greater City.

South Robertson Neighborhood Council encompasses several neighborhoods known over the years by other names: Pico-Robertson, Palms (in some areas), and Beverlywood (in others). Building a coherent and recognizable identity out of all the different neighborhoods has been a challenge, but an important one: neighborhoods decay when no one cares. So they have focused on building local community pride by increasing the sense of identity by “branding” the neighborhood as SORO. To this end, they display street banners, which make the SORO name visible, and host the well-attended annual SORO Festival. Most notably, they are sponsoring an innovative partnership with KCET Departures to create a series of video profiles, articles, and photo journals that tell the story of, and strengthen pride in SORO.

When plans were made to move the Space Shuttle Endeavor through their communities, four Neighborhood Councils knew it was going to cost them a lot of trees. So Empowerment Congress West Area, Park Mesa Heights, Empowerment Congress Central Area and Empowerment Congress North Area came together as the Space Shuttle Task Force to mitigate the negative impact of the historic event on the neighborhoods, negotiating an agreement that improved the quality of life in their neighborhoods. The number of trees to be cut down was reduced by hundreds and those that were destroyed were replaced four-to-one. In addition they will receive sidewalk repair, money for tree trimming, fifty youth scholarships, and five professional development programs for teachers at South LA schools.

Councilman Krekorian gave simple advice for future potential Neighborhood Council members. “If you want to have a say in what City Hall does, if you want to have a say in how your neighborhoods are represented here in this City Council Chamber, one of the best ways you can do it is to get involved in your Neighborhood Councils.”

To find out more about the EmpowerLA Awards, visit www.test.empowerla.org