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LONG BEACH, Calif. – When Colleen Mooney began at Strength Based Community Change (SBCC), the agency had a total budget of $75,000 and was located on Manhattan Beach Boulevard, according to her website. Its second floor location had just four counseling rooms and a back hall that was used for child therapy.

Today, its main office is located in Wilmington, California, it has a county-wide presence and a budget of $6 million. Mooney's work as executive director of the organization, which grew from a mental health focus to a social change agency empowering Los Angeles residents, led to her being recognized recently as the Rams' seventh "pLAymaker" honoree.

Mooney, who has served in her role for more than 40 years, and SBCC were surprised with a $5,000 check from The Los Angeles Rams Foundation at SBCC's annual gala on Sept. 17.

"I was shocked. I didn't expect it," Mooney said. "It's a real honor. I honestly didn't expect that kind of recognition. I'm very grateful for it, and I'm very honored to be part of (it). I looked at the playmakers because I've been looking at the Rams, so I understand what it means to be part of that, and I'm incredibly honored."

The core of SBCC's movement is supporting communities and their impacted residents to enact long-lasting change.

It drives social change through social change networks; economic opportunities and resources; individual, family and community resiliency; and mobilization and action programs. For example, one of their community action programs is called Clean Wilmington, a resident-led venture which aims to protect public health by activating residents in Wilmington and surrounding communities for monthly cleanups, community beautification projects and promoting environmentally-conscious landscaping techniques, according to its website.

Through Local Economies, SBCC does a local community pop-up the first Saturday of every month to support small businesses and innovative individuals within the community.

In addition to that economic vitality and community activation, it also works to give communities capacity to thrive through programs like its Counseling and Coaching Venture. Unlike traditional therapy programs centered around diagnosis and treatment, SBCC's Counseling and Coaching Venture uses empathy and respect to help individuals find their gifts, talents and passions by working with another individual with a similar background.

All told, SBCC serves more than 20,000 individuals, children and families per year, according to Mooney's website.

"We're not a typical social service agency, we are really about partnering with residents to lift up their gifts and talents," Mooney said. "And we do believe that everyone can make a contribution. And we believe that together, we can create a just and equitable society. So we have a lot of advocacy work, we have a county-wide organizing program, we do some social services, but the point is to really work with the residents in order to place them at the center of the conversation about social justice."

Given that approach, inspire change carries a similar meaning to Mooney. Her motto is "you are what you do, not what you say," because she believes in the value of community engagement and community building – and leadership means you walk your talk. 

"It means that we will really listen to ordinary people, believe in community wisdom, and not only rely on experts, but really invest in community and your neighborhoods," Mooney said. "And it also means pursuing an agenda that includes diversity, equity and inclusion."

The same belief that drives the investment in and support of SBCC's various communities is one that everyone can learn from. Much like the way they empower those residents, Mooney points to a similar approach for ways others can inspire change in their own communities.

"I think everybody has a skill," Mooney said. "And I think that in this current environment, we really have to work together and believe in goodness, and work on healthy relationships with one another."

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