Acting Locally: River LA

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Jason Foster, River LA's Director of Strategic Partnerships
We partnered with local organization, River LA, on the “River Love Tee," a collaborative project to raise awareness of the Los Angeles River. Director of Strategic Partnerships, Jason Foster, strives to make education and recreational opportunities more accessible to members of the LA River community and beyond. Read on as he shared what the nonprofit is about and how he got his start in this field of work.
The LA River's revitalization can provide solutions for some of our largest environmental and social challenges." -Jason Foster
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LA River / Frogtown - Los Angeles, CA
When did you find your passion for community development and what motivated you to get into nonprofit work?
I have been aware of how different life was for people that had money, job opportunities, and access to resources versus the people that didn’t, for as long as I can remember. After graduating from Carter High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, I went to Howard University, a Historical Black College in Washington DC, and chose to study Finance, not to work on Wall Street, but to study how to increase wealth in poor communities. While this wasn’t a primary focus of the course work on campus, I was able to meet people from all across the country from different cities and social backgrounds and uncovered each person from Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles all shared one thing: civic pride.
To me, this gave them permission to be a part of something bigger than themselves and an opportunity to add to an existing positive legacy each city has in their community. After acknowledging how each community provided support for my classmates, I was drawn to do work that created value in communities that had been overlooked or underinvested in, starting in Knoxville where I am from. This led to me quitting my first job out of college as a Financial Advisor trainee for Merrill Lynch in Knoxville to work in non-profit, the sector that I have been in ever since.
How does life in LA differ from life in your hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee?
I believe that people are essentially the same in every community that I have been in. We all want a sense of home and a feeling of connectedness with the people that live around you. Because of LA’s size, it’s harder to feel connected to everyone in the city like in Knoxville. This is why the Los Angeles River is such an opportunity for LA. It’s the one thing that we all share as Angelenos.
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LA River Bike Path / Los Angeles, CA
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What makes this city exciting to you?
The diversity and creativity of people living in Los Angeles excites me about the future of what this city will be in the future.
How did you become familiar with River LA and why did you decide to pursue a position at the organization? 
River LA was brought to my attention by a mentor years ago that knew that I was interested in more forward-thinking projects after working in the affordable housing sector in Brooklyn, New York. RLA represented an opportunity to work at a start-up non-profit and take some chances to move the conversation forward, instead of doing what has already been done. That excited me then and still excites me now.
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LA River / Arts District - Los Angeles, CA
Walk us through a typical day at work.
Doing Partnership work along 51 miles of the LA River can be fluid, but most of my days start at our office at LaKretz Innovation Campus in the Arts District near the LA River for calls or meetings with potential partners. A lot of phone calls and emails generating programming ideas and scheduling meetings, and at least one things to move our fundraising forward through writing grants and pitch meetings. We are still a non-profit so that’s essential.
In your opinion, why should people care about the river and its transformation?
The LA River’s revitalization can provide solutions for some of our largest environmental and social challenges like flood control; innovative water management and conservation; climate resiliency; equitable access to parks and public amenities; arts and cultural programming; and the development of sustainable public green spaces. It is our goal that the LA River be viewed as an asset by everyone in LA. 
What was it like working with our graphic designers on the River Love Tee?
It was great! I told them, “My job is to get out of the way and let them do what they do best!” They came back with a great shirt! Some partnerships are easier than others!
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Can you tell us about some of the projects your team is currently working on?
 I am really excited about the project with Civic Innovation Labs to create a publicly accessible website to serve as an online directory of LA River projects, events, meetings, and other relevant LA River stakeholders and organizations - YourLARiver.com. It sounds like a simple idea, but creating a place where people can visit, learn, and submit questions about the LA River will help us continue to learn what people are interested in, about the current state of the LA River and its future.
River LA’s AR app is slated to release soon. What experience can users expect?
With a flat surface, your phone, and the LA River AR app, you will be able to experience a macro-view of the 51-mile-long LA River community. Itʼs a literal lay-of-the-land, providing information, perspective, and background on the River itself, as well as its revitalization,  could positively affect river communities. I am most excited about the opportunity to share stories about the history, water, and people around the river, with data visualizations, to help make the work accessible to everyone.  
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For those who support the organization's mission and looking to get involved, what are their options?
Here are 3: 1) Buy a River Love Tee! Support and share our mission of bringing water, people, and nature together along all 51-miles of the LA River. 2) Join RLA email list or follow on social to learn more about our work. 3) Go to the LA River! Tell people about the good time you had. Grow the number of people interested in this great cause! 
Why should one attend this year’s Urban Garden Party?
This year, we are partnering with Spaceland Presents to produce our Urban Garden Party. Spaceland Presents has produced the early shows of huge musical acts such as White Stripes and the Arctic Monkeys. This year’s event will have LA-based musical artists, free drinks, local food trucks, and immersive art installations that allow attendees to interact with the space in the historic Regent Theater in Downtown Los Angeles. The idea of this year’s party is to create an experience that really is a metaphor for the river—where our environment meets the urban landscape of Los Angeles. It’s an exciting time for the River and Los Angeles and we are excited to put on a wonderful event with a world-class production company.
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What do you hope River LA can accomplish within the next 5 years?
I hope that River LA continues to expand the programming scope to reach more organizations and residents to expose them to the conversations about the LA River in a way that celebrates LA’s diversity and continue to strive for community-driven decision making that can be a model for equitable development for not only LA but throughout the country.
Learn more about River LA at riverla.org.
Instagram: @ourriverla 
Shop the "River Love Tee" HERE
RSVP to the Urban Garden Party HERE 
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