When Connie Watson passed on September 29, the County of Los Angeles lost one of its most dedicated frontline warriors. Having dedicated more than 25 years of her professional career to serving as the executive director of the South Los Angeles-based nonprofit, People Who Care Youth Center (PWC), Connie positively impacted the lives of thousands of youth over the years by providing them services they needed to lead them toward lives of self –sufficiency and empowerment. It was her life’s work.
A Nashville, TN native Connie relocated to Los Angeles more than 30 years ago. After a short stint as an entertainment public relations practitioner she “…couldn’t resist returning to a full-time commitment to the mental, social, economic, educational and physical well-being of children and families.”
Armed with both a bachelor and master’s degree in Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles, in the early 1990s she assumed the helm of People Who Care, which was founded in 1974 by South Central Los Angeles community residents who were concerned about the lack of positive outlets for youth in the community.
Despite the trials and tribulations of running an underfunded community-based organization, including working from a dilapidated, inner-city building with little furniture and even fewer resources, in 1991, then 40-year old Connie Watson was quoted in a Detroit News article, “Women Lead the Battle on Grass Roots Front,” that she had “…no desire to be anywhere else. This is where the battle is. This is where statistics are born and buried every day.”
Committed to the battle of saving youth from the ravages of hopelessness, over the next 25 years Connie stayed the course.
Through the years, PWC provided a safe haven for thousands of youth and their families. Programs offered included Youth Services for first time teen offenders that included community service opportunities and parenting education; New Beginnings after school care that included counseling, community service, parenting education and referrals for serious youth offenders released from probation; Family Revitalization providing in-home services to prevent child abuse and neglect; and, Road to Success providing youth with counseling, academic enrichment, conflict resolution workshops, computer training, employment readiness and life skills development under the umbrella of an after school program for teens.
Through the years Connie also provided a personal safe haven for youth – taking several in to her home to live while also serving as a foster care parent and kinship care provider to her own grandson.
Also along the way, with the aid of a matching grant from the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department, PWC purchased a building to house its youth center programs and staff. Connie sought for PWC to “…keep pace by broadening its scope of services and establishing collaborations with other public and private agencies.” Sometimes it worked. Most times it didn’t.
In 2000, under the direction of then Governor Gray Davis, legislators cut $71 million from the state budget that law makers sought to bolster programs aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency. After years of watching agencies like People Who Care struggle in the trenches, Gov. Davis said he would support restoration of the money if there was proof that the programs worked. Connie was vocally disheartened by this action and later commented about her observation that programs like People Who Care had gone from “low priority to no priority” in terms of public and private investments.
Much respected and lauded publicly for her PWC work, Connie in recent years was named 48th City Council District Woman of the Year in 2005; Hero of the Day in 2007 from Agape International Spiritual Center; and presented the Founders Award by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas during the Empowerment Congress’ 20th Anniversary Gala and Awards Ceremony in 2012, among many others.
An active community and organizational representative, Connie served as both national and local treasurer respectively, of the National Association of Black Social Workers and the Greater Los Angeles chapter. She was secretary of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s Western Slauson Redevelopment Committee for the 8th Council District; Chair of the Second Supervisorial District Empowerment Congress Human Services Committee; and, also served as an active member of the South Los Angeles Executive Directors Forum.
Frustrated but not defeated, toward the end Connie Watson kept the faith. “We can’t not fight. We can’t give up,” she said on many occasions. “We’ve got to take care of ourselves and make sure we are our own best effort for survival.”
Job well done Connie Watson. Rest in peace.