Institute for Public Strategies Staff to Provide Expertise at National Alcohol Policy Conference in U.S. Capital

SAN DIEGO – April 24, 2024 – The Institute for Public Strategies is honored to provide several staff members who will offer their expertise at the Alcohol Policy 20 Conference in Arlington, VA in May, sponsored by the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance. This year’s theme centers around changing America’s relationship with alcohol by moving evidence into action.

IPS CEO Brenda Simmons and Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Blanch will present “ACTing for Equity: An Equity-Centric Framework for Reducing Alcohol-Related Problems in Communities.”

Vice President of Programs Eric Collins and Prevention Specialist Hannah Cordeiro will present “Developing and Implementing Grasstop Coalitions to Address Alcohol-Related Harm.”

Media/GIS Director Meredith Gibson will present “Uncorking the Truth: Unraveling Health Inequities in Alcohol-Dense Neighborhoods.”

Los Angeles Regional Director Kendall Watanabe will team up with Program Manager Carolina Gabaldon, Collins, and Cordeiro in presenting an interactive workshop “Young Advocates Program: Successes from a Tri-County Partnership on Amplifying Youth-Based Leadership and Advocacy Through a Comprehensive Internship Program.”

Watanabe and Program Manager Gabriel Hill will lead a workshop “From Vision to Impact: Nurturing Sustainable Alcohol and Substance-Use Community Coalitions.”

“Our participation in this important conference will help strengthen the understanding of how to advance evidence-based public policy in preventing and reducing alcohol-related problems,” Simmons said. “It’s important that we advance rational alcohol policies with an emphasis on offsetting the public costs of alcohol use while considering the future of alcohol policy in the light of health care reform and other changes in the U.S. political and public health landscape.”

The U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of state and local organizations working on alcohol policy independent of commercial interests.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health, and improve quality of life with a vision for safe, secure, vibrant, and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.


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Brittany Hunsinger

Institute for Public Strategies

(619) 476-9100 x122

IPS Included in Historic Plan to Increase Outdoor Access to All in California through State Grant

SAN DIEGO–The Institute for Public Strategies announced today that it has received a $300,000 grant to increase access to the outdoors for all San Diegans regardless of who they are or where they live. The award is part of the Outdoors for All Strategy in partnership with the California Natural Resources Agency to build a movement across the state that will allow more people access to nature and provide outdoor experiences.

“The grant allows IPS to create the East County Outdoor Youth Empowerment and Adventure program, a new outdoor access initiative for youth participants from underserved populations in Lemon Grove, Spring Valley/La Presa, and El Cajon with a focus on equity and inclusion,” IPS CEO Brenda Simmons said. “In partnership with the participants, we’ll lead day outings and camping trips where youth will learn about health, wellness, and empowerment.”

The Youth Community Access grant was established with funds from the Proposition 64 cannabis tax to support public, educational, job training and outreach programs that expand youth access to cultural and natural resources. Priorities include establishing spaces for people and nature to thrive; fostering a sense of belonging in the outdoors; and building career pathways for youth to pursue in recreation, natural resources and restoration. The strategy will build on efforts to cultivate an outdoor culture and workforce that reflects California’s diversity.

“Participants will be involved in planning the excursions with a ‘Choose Your Adventure’ model empowering them to investigate topics that can improve their lives, their communities and the institutions that serve them,” Simmons said. “This is an exciting opportunity for IPS and we look forward to getting started.”

IPS was one of five nonprofits in San Diego County to be awarded the grant. Statewide, there were 71 grants awarded. IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health, and improve quality of life with a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Brittany Hunsinger
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 122

Tony Anderson
California Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary for Communications
(279) 599-0373

IPS Media/GIS Director Participates at GeoGov Summit as a Health Panelist

Event brings together thought leaders in geospatial technology to advance the National Geospatial Infrastructure 

ANNAPOLIS, MD, September, 2023 – Media/GIS Director Meredith Gibson recently participated as a panelist for a discussion on the use of geospatial technology in health at the 2023 GeoGov Summit in Herndon, VA. The convening was for experts in government, business, and nonprofit industries to advance geospatial governance and find solutions to connect data and technology across industries and platforms into one national strategy.

“I had the opportunity to talk about geographic information systems (GIS) in healthcare and public health, whether GIS is currently meeting its needs, the challenges, and how we can improve our GIS capabilities,” Gibson said.

The health panel was asked if the GIS community has done enough to develop practical use cases for health. According to Gibson, the COVID-19 dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University is an exemplary use of GIS in public health. Up until earlier this year, it tracked COVID-19 cases across various metrics, including at a geographic scale, on a daily basis.

However, it is clear that more could be done in the health sector to integrate more geospatial technology. According to an analysis by GW Consulting, healthcare and public health do not even make the top 10 of the geospatial market.

“What struck me the most about the summit was how public health and healthcare are behind the curve in leveraging the technology compared to other industries like climate science,” Gibson said. “We all have the same goal – resilient communities – but we could do so much more for individual and population level health with the right resources and partnerships.”

In addition to mapping and analyzing disease hot spots, GIS can be used to identify neighborhoods and populations best served by health interventions; forecast potential health-related trends; conduct environmental scans; coordinate emergency response; pinpoint access to medical and other services; and serve as a community outreach tool.

The conference addressed the priorities of the geospatial industry, such as climate change, civil infrastructure, health, emergency management, defense and space security. Panelists shared ideas around data governance and spatial technology advancements.

Because the pandemic upended all industries across the globe, it’s imperative that the health sector has a seat at the table in determining the path for a national geospatial strategy. Moreover, a national strategy that considers the granular scale and dynamic character of communities, such as the ones IPS works with, will help inform data collection efforts that will have the most impact in terms of population health, safety, and equity.

Gibson is leading the development of IPS’ policy mapping lab, an initiative that provides training and technical assistance to other public health agencies and community coalitions in leveraging GIS to achieve organizational goals.

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Meredith Gibson
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 118

IPS to Lead Sessions at the NPN Conference

SAN DIEGO, July 2023 – IPS is pleased to announce that several team members will lead multiple sessions at the National Prevention Network’s (NPN) annual conference in Birmingham, AL, on August 15 – 17, 2023. The conference is hosted by the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

Since 1988, NPN has brought together prevention professionals, coalition leaders, researchers, and federal partners to share research, best practices, and promising evaluation results for the purpose of integrating research into prevention practice. IPS will share its expertise in involving youth in policy advocacy, community organizing at the grasstops and grassroots levels, and using data and technology in prevention efforts.

The following topics will be presented:

Young Advocates Program: Successes from a Tri-County Partnership on Amplifying Youth-Based Leadership and Advocacy through a Comprehensive Internship Program. Craig Reed, San Diego County Regional Director; Kendall Watanabe, Los Angeles County Regional Director; and Carolina Gabaldon, San Bernardino – High Desert Program Manager

Mapping Inequities in Neighborhoods with Alcohol Overconcentration. Meredith Gibson, Media/GIS Director

The Alcohol Policy Panel: A Successful 25-Year Partnership Connecting Prevention Providers, Elected Officials, Business Owners, and Community Members. Eric Collins, Vice President of Programs; and Craig Reed, San Diego County Regional Director

The West Hollywood Project — Innovative Strategies to Reduce Meth Overdoses and Leverage Partnerships to Effectively Distribute Harm Reduction Supplies within the LGBTQ+ Community. Darwin Rodriguez, West Hollywood Project Program Manager

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.



“Unity in the Community” Mural is Unveiled

The six-year project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, demonstrates the value of public art to community health

SAN DIEGO, April 2023 – On Saturday, March 25, residents and city leaders gathered at Teralta Neighborhood Park in San Diego for the official unveiling of a 270-foot mural depicting the City Heights neighborhood. The project, co-led by IPS’ sister agency, the Global Institute for Public Strategies, was the culmination of six years’ work and was designed with beautification, health, and safety in mind.

“The mural intentionally reflects City Heights’ diversity, aspirations, harmony, landmarks, and progress,” said IPS-affiliate and volunteer manager of the project, Dan Tomsky. “Subsequently, this beautiful mural has increased pride and ownership so that residents feel they can actively recreate in Teralta Neighborhood Park.”

Ideas for the mural’s content were sourced from within the City Heights community and are reflected in choices like the inclusion of the mural’s title, “Unity in the Community,” in both Vietnamese and Somali—languages familiar to the neighborhood’s residents and families. It showcases the faces of community members, institutions, and schools, and even the park’s dog-friendly policies to remind park visitors that Teralta is part of a broader community.

The buy-in of community members was essential to creating and sustaining the impact of projects that improve conditions. This is made clear through the passion and enthusiasm of local advocates like Maria Cortez, a decades-long resident, schoolteacher, and key advocate for the mural.

“We are in an underserved community,” said Cortez. “Projects like public murals remind residents that they deserve safe, healthy, and clean public environments.”

Teralta is one of the few outdoor spaces in City Heights and has a history of litter, graffiti, petty crime, and gang activity. City Heights residents eventually adopted a comprehensive approach to addressing the problems, including with Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach to crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design. CPTED can also encompass public art. Research increasingly shows arts and culture can provide communities with a sense of self-efficacy, emotional and social engagement, expression, and true stakes in their environment.

City Heights residents familiar with Teralta Neighborhood Park desired a mural in order to transform its blank sound wall – frequently tagged with gang-related and other graffiti – into an uplifting art amenity. With the support of the Parks and Recreation area manager for City Heights, the community embraced a mural project as an integral part of a comprehensive CPTED-based initiative that already was favorably impacting the park.

On one end of the Teralta Park mural, there sits a bright orange and red bird — a Phoenix — meant to symbolize revitalization, resilience, and a new birth for the park. This is the message Cortez wants her community to understand and embody: “We want to show that we matter, and that the youth matter.”

Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

IPS Expands Tobacco Prevention Efforts

Agency awarded two new grants from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health

LOS ANGELES, December 2022 – The Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) announced it has been awarded two grants from the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health to develop and implement comprehensive smoke-free policies for outdoor areas and in multi-unit housing. These grants from the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, Tobacco Control and Prevention Program will be implemented in four cities within LA County – Whittier, Pico Rivera, Montebello, and Alhambra. Since 2020, IPS has also led a multi-unit housing tobacco prevention project in the City of Los Angeles.

“We are excited to expand our tobacco prevention work in LA with these initiatives, as we increase the wellbeing of residents in these additional communities,” IPS Director of Tobacco Programs Maurina Cintron said. “We will also rely on the help from community members to achieve these goals.”

One of the new contracts will focus on advancing policy solutions that address drifting secondhand smoke in outdoor communal areas in Montebello and Whittier. The primary focus will be on preventing smoking at bus stops, ticket lines, ATMs, taxi stands and within 25 feet of where smoking is currently outlawed. These areas will also include outdoor dining areas, public events like farmers markets, fairs, swap meets and concerts, recreational areas, golf courses, playgrounds, parks, sidewalks, parking lots, bike lanes, alleys and work sites. Smoking is defined as inhaling, exhaling or burning tobacco, cannabis or any other plant product including synthetics, whether by burning or vaping.

The second new contract will concentrate on policy solutions that prevent exposure to tobacco and cannabis smoke in multi-unit residences in Alhambra and Pico Rivera. In these two cities, IPS will help reduce and eliminate drifting secondhand and thirdhand smoke in individual units, balconies, patios, porches, decks, common areas, hallways and laundry rooms.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease and disability in the United States, resulting in over 480,000 deaths each year, including deaths from secondhand smoke. In LA County, smoking causes one in every seven deaths, and approximately $4.3 billion dollars are lost due to smoking-related diseases and deaths each year. The leading causes of smoking related deaths are lung cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD) and chronic airway obstruction.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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IPS 30th Anniversary Logo

IPS Celebrates 30 Years Leading Projects Around the Nation

SAN DIEGO, December 2022 – “Equity is not a path forward, it is the path forward,” is a phrase you can hear often around the offices at the Institute for Public Strategies and is embedded in our office culture. CEO/President Brenda Simmons, who has been at the helm for more than three years, says IPS is committed to transforming the social determinants of health so that individuals – regardless of their race, culture, economic circumstances, sexual orientation, gender identity, or educational attainment – have the opportunity to live their best lives.

IPS celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2022 as a public health organization leading the way on upstream prevention projects across the United States. Since 1992, IPS has been directing multiple government- and foundation-funded projects throughout the country, with offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino Counties, as well as Maryland and Montana.

Our mission is to work alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health, and improve quality of life. The mission is based on an understanding that most health-related problems are preventable and most health disparities stem from unjust community and social conditions. Equity is listed first among IPS’s core values, which also include diversity, empowerment, systems change, results, and integrity. It is not enough to eliminate policies that create or perpetuate social/racial inequity and injustice; we need new policies and practices in place that actively reverse the harm that was caused, according to Simmons.

“What IPS is most proud of now is our community partnerships with other like-minded agencies and community groups doing similar work, as well as with our funders,” Simmons said. “These partnerships allow us to do our best work and to make a difference.”

Group photo at 30th anniversary party

Staff, board members, community members, and partner organizations celebrate IPS’ 30th anniversary.

Former Board Member James Baker founded IPS with the original focus on being of service to communities by providing media advocacy services, training and technical assistance. “Over 30 years, IPS began operating its own projects, performing prevention implementation on large research initiatives and providing technical assistance and training to many government agencies and program operators across the nation,” Baker said. “IPS now partners with communities to advance quality of life and transform the conditions and systems that perpetuate inequity, poor health, and lack of opportunity in order to create vital, thriving, and inclusive communities.”

IPS has emerged as a leader in program design and implementation of environmental – also known as upstream – prevention in the public health and safety field, having worked on dozens of state-, county-, and community-level projects, including the Community Trials to Reduce Alcohol Trauma project and the American Medical Association-led A Matter Of Degree (AMOD) – a college-community alcohol and binge drinking prevention program.

IPS’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion begins at the Board of Directors level.

“When everyone has the opportunity to live to their full potential, that’s when we have achieved equity,” said IPS Board Member Dana Sherrod. “We are cultivating a sense of community cohesion by developing and advocating for changes to policies and systems that work as barriers to equity.”

IPS has also expanded into providing training webinars online, on topics including utilizing public art in prevention; breaking the cycle of adverse childhood experiences; using GIS maps to advocate for healthier communities; making the case for harm reduction; engaging youth through technology and many others.

Our work starts with the belief that systems and policies have worked to the advantage of some and disadvantage of others. This manifests in disinvested communities, educational failures, wealth gaps, community trauma, structural racism, and other types of harm to our neighborhoods. Ensuring that everybody is able to thrive where they live, work, and play means that we must address their access to quality education and healthcare, housing security, economic stability, safe neighborhoods, and support systems.

Whether our projects address alcohol-related harms, promote food security, engage immigrant youth who have been victimized by the War on Drugs to become civic leaders, or reduce health disparities among the Latinx community in San Diego’s Southern Border Region, we recognize that our work must be applied through a lens of equity.

We look forward to another successful 30 years and beyond.

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IPS Honored for its Work Supporting the LGBTQ+ Community

LOS ANGELES, April 6, 2022 – The Institute for Public Strategies has been recognized by the City of West Hollywood with a proclamation for its work hosting a drug- and alcohol-free New Year’s Eve party known as #BOOM!. The event draws hundreds of attendees annually and is now in its 9th year.

IPS produces #BOOM! to provide an alternative for those who would like to celebrate New Year’s Eve without the presence of alcohol and drugs.

“The holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for people with substance misuse issues and #BOOM! brings the community together in a safe and sober space to promote fun and wellbeing,” West Hollywood City Councilmember John Erickson said at a February City Council meeting while presenting the proclamation.

After having to cancel the 2021 celebration in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, IPS developed #BOOM! 2022 In Your Living Room! – a live broadcast celebration and virtual event that featured celebrity guests, music videos, live musical performances, and a midnight countdown. Participants were given “#BOOM! Boxes” filled with snacks, party favors, a toasting glass, and a non-alcoholic beverage.

Sarah Blanch is Vice President of Organizational Development at IPS and oversees IPS’ Los Angeles projects.

“We are so honored to receive this proclamation. #BOOM! was one of those events that was completely derailed by the pandemic,” Blanch said. “Over the past two years, drug and alcohol use and feelings of isolation have dramatically ticked upward, so we were really trying to reimagine a successful virtual event. We were thrilled to host almost 400 people at our virtual #BOOM!.”

Blanch added that if it hadn’t been for the truly generous support of the West Hollywood City Council, the event probably would have been cancelled.

“Most importantly, 88% of the people who attended #BOOM! in Your Living Room and took the survey said that the event demonstrated that New Year’s Eve can be enjoyed without drugs or alcohol and 80% said that the event helped them stay sober,” Blanch said.

Dean Ambrosini is a prevention coordinator for IPS’ West Hollywood Project and accepted the proclamation on behalf of IPS.

“BOOM! provides support for the recovery community, and it also extends IPS’ mission to shift social norms away from problematic drug and alcohol use,” Ambrosini said. “Despite the virtual format, we got a great turnout and were very encouraged.”

West Hollywood is a vibrant destination with a large LGBTQ+ community that attracts thousands of visitors each week. The city’s club scene is a vital part of the culture and economy, resulting in the pervasive use of alcohol, cannabis and illicit drugs. The IPS WeHo Project’s primary goal is to reduce alcohol- and drug-related harms through issue advocacy and to help change social norms. The WeHo Project is also working with the city council to reduce meth-related harms. Recommendations include more funding for syringe exchange programs and the creation of a trauma-informed sobering site with integrated harm reduction services. IPS’ West Hollywood Community Coalition advocates for these and other policies that would benefit public health and safety.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

Preventing Substance Misuse Continues to be a Top Priority in Los Angeles County

Three new contracts awarded to Institute for Public Strategies

LOS ANGELES, February 2, 2022 – The Institute for Public Strategies (IPS) has been awarded three new contracts aimed at reducing alcohol and drug problems in Los Angeles County.

The contracts will expand IPS’s prevention efforts in LA since 2012, engaging communities to prevent substance misuse by addressing its root causes. IPS will target alcohol, cannabis, methamphetamine and prescription medication misuse on the Westside of Los Angeles. The project in West Hollywood will focus primarily on preventing methamphetamine use in the LGBTQ+ community, which is disproportionately impacted by meth-related harms.

The new three-year contracts will begin July 1, 2022. IPS’s approach to reducing drug- and alcohol-related problems will include community education, network and coalition building, influencing policy, and changing institutional practices.

IPS is known for its 30-year history implementing population-level prevention programs to improve community health outcomes throughout the U.S. IPS’s substance use-focused prevention programs concentrate on the underlying factors that initiate and elevate substance use, including ease of access, the built environment, community trauma, and lack of childhood opportunity.

“We are eager to continue and expand our work in LA County,” IPS Vice President of Organizational Development, Sarah Blanch said. “We will be integrating more youth into our coalitions and expanding community prevention efforts to create conditions that make problematic substance use less possible and less likely. The best way to accomplish this is by partnering with communities.”

IPS will be integrating multiple community sectors into its LA projects, including policymakers, city staff, faith groups, schools, youth, nonprofits, and social services agencies.

“At IPS, we empower local stakeholders to proactively address community risk factors that contribute to the misuse of alcohol and drugs,” said Blanch, who also oversees the LA office at IPS. “We are committed to partnering with communities to create positive change.”

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.

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Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112

IPS Wins Sierra Health Foundation Grant

New program will support the Latinx immigrant youth community in the San Diego border region

SAN DIEGO, December 1, 2021 – The Institute for Public Strategies announced it has received a grant to address substance use in the Latinx immigrant youth community along the Mexican border.

The grant comes from Elevate Youth California, a project of The Center at Sierra Health Foundation under contract with the California Department of Health Care Services. IPS is one of 61 community-based and tribal organizations in California to get a portion of more than $52 million funded by revenue generated from Proposition 64, which legalized adult non-medical use of cannabis.

“The project will develop the Youth in Action coalition to critically analyze the social contexts and injustices that negatively affect their development and explore historical divestment in their communities,” IPS Project Manager Brittany Hunsinger said. “The youth in the 12 to 26 age range will identify and champion policies, systems and environmental factors that establish equitable investments in their neighborhoods.”

Youth in Action will be focused in San Diego neighborhoods along the border and Barrio Logan, as well as the cities of Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach, as part of IPS’s Partnership for Success (P4S) coalition. The youth will have adults ready to mentor them as activists, building social connection and community cohesion.

“Along with their parents, they will learn about how their behavior and decision-making related to alcohol and drugs are influenced by the context in which they live,” Hunsinger said. “They will also explore concepts including community trauma, toxic stress, Adverse Childhood Experiences, the impact the war on drugs has had on them, prevention, and possibly harm reduction strategies, if appropriate.”

The Youth in Action members will participate in a Resident Leadership Academy, which provides leadership, advocacy, and youth-led participatory action research training. They will be empowered as leaders and change agents, actively defining their own needs. IPS will maximize their autonomy, voice, and choice in all stages of the program. IPS will recruit immigrant youth and young adults, documented or not, who are interested in social justice and advocacy.

The group gatherings will consist of healing circles to provide youth a safe space to listen to each other’s stories and cultivate a peer support network.  A trip to Sacramento may also be part of the experience as the Youth in Action learn how to become civically engaged and address lawmakers while advocating for themselves and others in their communities.

“Elevate Youth California prioritizes youth leadership and invests in healing and community growth,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center. “Our new partners will work directly with youth to improve the environment of communities impacted by the war on drugs, which has led to inequity in our health systems and the criminalization of youth in low-income communities and communities of color. California’s youth are talented, capable and ready for this investment.”

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive.


Paul Levikow
Institute for Public Strategies
(619) 476-9100 ext. 112