Nearly two years ago, Long Beach Community Foundation President and CEO Marcelle Epley convened Long Beach’s four largest publications for a collaborative effort that ultimately produced an award-winning series about the city’s digital divide and that got the local government talking about the issue. Last year, she initiated Around the Table, an event that brought 3,000 residents together at gatherings throughout the city to talk about ways to build a better Long Beach. The effort revealed new data about city residents and what matters to them.
(Photograph by the Business Journal’s Pat Flynn)
Epley is a resident of Bixby Knolls, where she lives with her husband, two children and two dogs. A graduate of California State University, Long Beach, Epley’s first local job was at the Press-Telegram in 2000, where she served as director of marketing. In 2006, she took on the same position at Long Beach Transit, which she held until she took over leadership of the Long Beach Community Foundation four years ago. The foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals, agencies, nonprofits and others manage their philanthropic giving through charitable funds.
In her role at the community foundation, Epley saw an opportunity to convene and gather organizations within the city toward common causes.
As a former newspaper employee, Epley has observed local publications struggling to produce as many in-depth pieces as they had in previous years, and decided to address the issue.
“When the Knight Ridder newspaper group broke up, the Knight brothers, John and James, formed the Knight Foundation and created endowments in each of the cities that a [Knight Ridder] newspaper existed. Long Beach is one of those cities via the Press-Telegram,” Epley said. “They have long been interested in finding a sustainable model that newspapers could use to grow and thrive and serve a community.”
Epley decided to try to convince the four largest Long Beach news publications to collaborate on an in-depth series, on the condition that she secure funding from the Knight Foundation. The Long Beach Business Journal, Long Beach Post, Grunion Gazette and Press-Telegram agreed, forming the Long Beach Media Collaborative (LBMC) and working together to produce a series on the city’s digital divide. The topic was inspired by a Census statistic that revealed about 20% of Long Beach residents did not have Internet access. Epley secured a grant for the project from the Knight Foundation, and the publications got to work.
“The hope in bringing the newspapers together was to increase the coverage and quality of journalism in Long Beach,” Epley said. “I think the litmus test for success was the fact that the mayor and our city council in the end said [that] this is important and it’s a priority, and we’ve got to take a look at making it better.” Epley has been given the go-ahead from the Knight Foundation to fund a second LBMC project.
Epley debuted another new concept to Long Beach last year with Around the Table, a one-day event that brought community members together around tables in backyards, at coffee shops, libraries and restaurants in each of the city’s districts.
To get the initiative going, Epley partnered with the local nonprofit We Love Long Beach, which has an existing network of active community members throughout the city. “What came out of it was a real documentation of the love that residents have for their city,” Epley said of the event, held last September. Data collected from surveys taken during the event is available at aroundthetablelb.com.
“The actionable piece is the fact that the majority of residents expressed serious concern about the issue of housing and homelessness,” Epley said. As a result, she is working to figure out how the community foundation can help connect residents to entities working to address the issue.
Epley’s next big idea is already on its way to becoming fruition: extending the Long Beach College Promise, which guarantees qualified Long Beach Unified School District students a free year at Long Beach City College and enrollment at California State University Long Beach, to incorporate a workforce component.
A program designed to connect graduates with local employers is debuting soon. “We’re calling it the Long Beach College Promise Fellowship Program. The first class will be in spring 2019,” she said.
In closing, Epley reflected, “I would say that every single resident in this community has an opportunity to make it better. There is no deed or task too small.”