From left are LISC LA Deputy Director Krista Phipps, JCOD Director Songhai Armstead and grant awardee Darlene Burke, founder/executive director of Ten Toes In. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

The Los Angeles County Justice, Care and Opportunities Department (JCOD) and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Los Angeles (LISC LA) concluded its 2nd JCOD Incubation Academy on March 28 at the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Park Event Center in Los Angeles with a pitch competition that awarded three local organizations with monetary grants.

The JCOD Incubation Academy aims to engage and enroll Los Angeles County grassroots non-profit organizations, especially those with BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, or justice-involved leadership, that have historically been providing services to justice-involved people but have faced challenges obtaining government contracts and funding.

“It’s inspiring to see our Incubation Academy graduates not only showcase their talent but also their innovative vision for community support,” said retired Judge Songhai Armstead, who was appointed as a Superior Court Judge by former California Governor Jerry Brown and served for five years before becoming the director of JCOD. She was sworn in as the first leader of the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Office, which became part of JCOD in October 2023. JCOD is the county’s new central agency that unifies the county’s non-clinical efforts to serve vulnerable justice-impacted people and communities. “They’re not just dreaming of a brighter future; they’re actively working to uplift and support underrepresented communities across L.A. County.”

Ten organizations from Cohorts 3 and 4 of the Incubation Academy took the stage to pitch their vision and the impactful work they are doing in underrepresented communities across Los Angeles County. Each pitch was a testament to the dedication and personal commitment of its staff, many of whom have direct experience with the justice system.

The JCOD Incubation Academy participants pose for a photo. (Lila Brown/L.A. Sentinel)

“Over the past two and a half years, we’ve had four cohorts of Incubation Academy and $8.9 million was awarded to 16 organizations in those first three cohorts. The fourth cohort received $1.8 million in funding, stated Nicole Williams, executive director of LISC LA.

“Two of our Incubation Academy alumni providers secured full-service partnership housing contracts, and through our partnership with the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, $1.3 million was allocated to 22 housing organizations early in the inception of the program. Since graduation, about 35 organizations have garnered a collective total of $15 million in awards of contracts.”

During the Pitch Competition, members from Cohorts 3 and 4 of the Incubation Academy were challenged to present a three-minute pitch about their organization and their vision for growth. An additional $1,000 was added as a bonus to this round of recipients. The top three pitches awarded prizes included the 1st Place Prize of $6,000 to Open Path Counseling; 2nd Place Prize of $4,000 to Ten Toes In which serves as a mentorship and domestic violence prevention program that assists formerly incarcerated men to reintegrate back into society successfully and help them to maintain a healthy relationship with their partner; and the 3rd Place Prize of $3,000 was awarded to Defy Ventures.

“The Incubator Academy was an amazing opportunity,” exclaimed Darlene Burke, Executive Director of Ten Toes In. “We were educated on how to create a ‘sound’ infrastructure for our organization. In addition, we have cultivated beautiful relationships with other phenomenal organizations within the community. This grant will be used for operational expenses. We are a small organization, and every penny counts for us to continue to do the work in the community. Our goal is to expand to the city of Long Beach to provide our resources and programs by securing an office space.”

The competition was judged by Megan Castillo, ReImagine LA coalition coordinator; Esther Lim, senior justice deputy and AAPI advisor for LA County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis; and Krista Phipps, deputy director for LISC LA.

“I’m incredibly proud of the participants today. The enthusiasm from everyone in the room, seeing the wonderful work happening in our communities and being able to showcase these organizations was impactful,” said Armstead.

“We really wish we could have funded everyone fully, but there are a lot of opportunities here for folks to connect and grow. We look forward to seeing what happens next.”

The JCOD Incubation Academy continues to be a cornerstone of L.A. County’s efforts to support grassroots non-profit organizations. The success of this year’s pitch competition is a testament to the strength and resilience of these organizations and their invaluable contributions to the community.


JCOD accepts applications for future Cohorts of its Incubation Academy on a rolling basis. CBOs can visit for more information or to apply.