Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Watts service organization rose from ashes of 1965 riots

WATTS — Before the 1965 riots, pressure in the community was mounting.

“There weren’t enough jobs, there was little housing, our education was terrible, young people did not have opportunities to work, there was no employment or job training activities,” Timothy Watkins, president and chief executive officer of Watts Labor Community Action Committee, said. “In that vacuum, the frustration caused by the long history of police brutality boiled over into revolt.”

That same year, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee was born.

With the help of the United Automobile Workers and its president at the time, Walter Reuther, Ted Watkins, Timothy’s father, founded the nonprofit to fill the growing needs of Watts and other South Los Angeles communities.

Since then, the organization has addressed everything from homelessness, healthy eating and food insecurity to affordable housing, mental health and toxic environmental conditions.

Just last year, for instance, the organization launched the Better Watts Initiative with the help of several of its partners, including Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Made up of community members, the collective strives to address and work on environmental justice in Watts, specifically about the lack of clean air, water and soil in the community.

With homelessness growing in the area, the WLCAC hasn’t relied on city politicians to respond to the crisis. Instead, it has taken matters into its own hands with dialogue about what causes homelessness and the McCoy Villa.

The Villa, as described in the nonprofit’s website, is “Watts’ first and only state-of-the-art major housing complex for homeless families.” The compound is built, but is in the pre-development stages.

And to assure that families in Watts and its surrounding communities are healthy and have access to nutritious food, the WCLAC is developing an urban farm park in the neighborhood.

According to its website, the organization was awarded a $4.9 million in grant funds five years ago to build a community center and urban farm park in Watts. The farm, which will be named MudTown Farms, will be made up of a learning facility, an orchard, a fitness area, land to grow produce on and more.

While the WLCAC offers after-school and summer programs for South L.A.’s youth, it doesn’t overlook the senior population that also lives in the community.

As the operator of the largest senior citizens program in L.A., the organization provides health screenings, recreational activities, day care, educational programs and more to seniors at its Watts and downtown L.A. multipurpose centers.

There, the elderly are served fresh, healthy food daily. For those who can’t leave their homes because of a disability or mobility issues, hot meals are delivered to them every day.

The extensive services and programs that the WLCAC offers are so wide reaching that Timothy Watkins estimates about 2.2 million people benefit from them in some way.

And he hopes that number grows.

“We want to expand the base of WLCAC,” Watkins said. “We’ve been struggling financially for years, but we hope that maybe in a year or so we’ll start acquiring property again.”


CEO/ President: Timothy Watkins

Annual budget: $15 million

Number of employees: 230

Years in operation: 52

Location: 10950 S. Central Ave., 90059