Local Hero: Belinda Smith Walker

Belinda Smith Walker

"America's promise - opportunity - is the best hope for mankind's future. For all to survive, we each must bring opportunity to those who have it least."

Belinda Smith Walker has helped thousands of girls and women facing some of life's toughest circumstances through the instrumental role she has played in the creation of three nonprofit organizations.

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Her most current endeavor is serving as Founding Board Member of New Village Charter School, an all-girls high school located in the Rampart area near downtown Los Angeles. Founded in 2006, New Village works to meet the educational needs of young women with school histories marked by difficulty and failure and lives marked by pregnancy, parenting and other challenges. New Village has adopted Big Picture Learning, an approach where a student's education is driven by her interests, incorporates real-world experiences and provides small classes and individualized curricula. Partnerships throughout Los Angeles have created extraordinary opportunities for students, such as twice-weekly internships incorporated into each student's academic program and meditation twice a day. Ms. Walker is helping New Village establish a dynamic learning environment inspiring achievement in its students and a new model for inner-city schools.

Ms. Walker was also a key player in the formation of Girls & Gangs (G&G) in 1997. The Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides young women in the juvenile justice system with reentry services including life-skills workshops in probation camp and in the community after release, case management and advocacy. Ms. Walker served as G&G's volunteer executive director for over 10 years and currently serves on its board. G&G's workshops and individual reentry support services have become an asset to the community its serves. More than 3,500 girls and young women have participated in G&G's services since its inception. Its significance as the only nonprofit focused solely and entirely on girls in the juvenile justice system has gained the respect from the community. In 2010, G&G was named a Promising Program within the County of Los Angles Youth Offender Reentry Blueprint, and in 2009, G&G was grand prize-winner of the Social Innovation Fast Pitch competition.

G&G was created while Ms. Walker served on the board of another nonprofit organization that she co-founded - the Los Angeles Women's Foundation (LAWF), serving as the chair of its founding board of directors. The community-based foundation provided grants and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations empowering low-income women and girls in Greater Los Angeles. In 2000, LAWF merged with its sister organization in San Francisco to become the Women's Foundation of California. Ms. Walker served on its governing board.

Some of Ms. Walker's most recent awards include the 2009 Momentum Award from the California Women's Foundation and Unsung Hero of the Nonprofit Community by the California Community Foundation in 2000. She received her bachelor's degree from Stanford University and J.D. from Harvard Law School.

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