With origins in California dating back to 1937, The James Irvine Foundation’s dedication to bettering the state is demonstrated by its annual Irvine Leadership Awards. Each year, the Foundation conducts a rigorous selection process for discovering extraordinary individuals who are tackling California’s most challenging problems, from education and food security to employment and equal opportunity for diverse communities. Recipients are chosen for their wisdom in creating solutions and models rooted in the reality of the issues they address.

Every February, the Foundation announces the year’s recipients at an exclusive ceremony in Sacramento where policymakers, nonprofits and other leaders gather to raise their glasses to California’s modern pioneers. For the past five years, Fenton has had the honor of working alongside the Foundation to develop content and collateral; lead a statewide media campaign with coverage in major dailies across California, including Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle; and provide general communications support to make the awards a vibrant success.

Read on and watch the videos to learn how this year’s recipients are tackling enormous challenges with their ingenious solutions.

Aida Cardenas, Building Skills Partnership, Los Angeles
Low-wage workers, many of them immigrants, work long hours with little chance to acquire the job skills and language ability that can lead to greater opportunity. Cardenas established an unlikely labor-management partnership that allows workers to learn these skills on the job while also helping employers develop a more competitive workforce.

Karen Christensen, Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County, Capitola
As threats to water and other natural resources have increased, landowners, environmentalist and public officials are struggling with how to meet competing demands. Christensen is demonstrating that local Resource Conservation Districts are an effective tool for bringing together unlikely allies and forging agreements to protect natural resources.

Stuart Cohen, TransForm, Oakland
California’s dependence on cars has led to long commutes, worsening traffic and a growing financial burden on families while also contributing to global warming and poor air quality. Cohen is leading an effort to use innovative regional planning and world-class public transit to create vibrant, walkable communities that improve quality of life and help the environment.

Jeff Oxendine, Health Career Connection, Oakland
California faces a serious shortage of health workers, particularly in low-income communities, as more than six million newly insured state residents seek care under federal health reform. Oxendine is strengthening and diversifying California’s health workforce by increasing opportunities for disadvantaged youth to launch rewarding careers in the health industry.

José Quiñonez, Mission Asset Fund, San Francisco
Many low-income families have little or no credit history, making it difficult for them to get conventional loans, build assets and participate in the mainstream economy. Quiñonez’s organization provides a bridge to the financial mainstream by turning informal lending practices into financial activity that is formally recognized by banks and credit bureaus.

Jill Vialet, Playworks, Oakland
Student achievement remains a pressing concern in California, and educators are looking for cost-effective approaches to improve student outcomes. Vialet’s program makes recess a key part of the solution by using trained coaches to engage students in beneficial activities, thus increasing attention and instructional time in class and reducing bullying.

Don’t lose track of these amazing individuals as they continue to improve lives and communities!