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Social work student finds his niche with Dodgers internship

The Dodgers Foundation supports programs in sports, education, and health and wellness that benefit the children and families in the greater Los Angeles area

James Lopez at Dodger Stadium
Jalal Hazzard (Dodgers Foundation); Steven Bush (USC); Nichol Whiteman, Dodgers Foundation executive director; and James Lopez, USC MSW student (Photo/courtesy of Steven Bush)

James Lopez is living every baseball fan’s dream. Through his second-year Master of Social Work internship with the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, he walks the field, meets players and a few times a week stops by the stadium for work.

“As a kid, I would go to games with my family. I had jerseys of my favorite players. Growing up as a fan, going to the stadium was a big deal. Now I’m coming here three times a week because it’s part of my job. It’s an awesome feeling to be a fan first and then to be a part of the foundation team,” he said.

As the official team charity of the Dodgers, the foundation supports programs in sports, education, and health and wellness that benefit the children and families in the greater Los Angeles area. The USC School of Social Work recently established a relationship with the Dodgers Foundation, which has included the foundation creating the first field placement for a USC MSW student.

Social work students can provide great benefits to those in the business industry.

Steven Bush

“Social work students can provide great benefits to those in the business industry,” said Steven Bush, Lopez’s field supervisor and an adjunct associate professor at the School of Social Work. “There is a special skill set that social workers develop through their training, and we’re trying to help our MSW students develop these skill sets in organizations outside of what are considered by many to be traditional social work field placements.”

Lopez said he chose the Dodgers Foundation primarily for this reason.

“I was interested in this placement because it fell under the umbrella of being in a non-traditional social work environment,” he said. “I knew it would expose me to a different realm of the profession … and I wanted to take advantage of that.”

Serving the underserved

At the Dodgers Foundation, his primary task is to oversee the evaluation and assessment process of the Dodgers Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.

Part of an international Major League Baseball initiative, Dodgers RBI serves approximately 4,000 of the city’s most disadvantaged children ages 5 to 18, providing them with opportunities to play softball and baseball while encouraging them to pursue their education and become a positive part of the community.

The program currently works with youth in South Los Angeles, Compton and Venice. The Dodgers Foundation provides uniforms and equipment, as well as cash grants for umpires and field maintenance. Participants also receive financial literacy seminars, free eye screenings and exams, and incentives and visits to Dodger Stadium.

“Right now, the foundation doesn’t have a system or plan in place to collect data and evaluate the RBI program,” Lopez said. “They need to develop a way to measure the success of the program and the needs of the participants. By developing a best-practice framework, it will help them expand to different parts of Los Angeles that currently don’t have these opportunities.”

Lopez has taken the lead on developing metrics to evaluate the program, from administering pre- and post-test surveys to participants to conducting focus groups with parents and to meeting with various foundation partners, such as the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Recreation and Parks.

“[The] qualitative and quantitative data [that James is collecting is] necessary to determine the program’s impact, make informed decisions and implement program changes,” said Nichol Whiteman, the foundation’s executive director. “James brings a social work perspective, a substantive way to really consider the depth of our programming.”

The bigger picture

After gathering all the data, Lopez will have the opportunity to suggest programmatic changes midseason and postseason. So far, his efforts have been well received by his foundation colleagues.

“The Dodgers Foundation has been really receptive to me and what I bring to the table. They rely on me as the expert on providing the social work lens … and they trust me, so it has fostered a really good relationship,” he said. “One of the greatest things I’ve learned from the exposure to this unique program is how to evaluate a program from scratch. I’ve always understood the frameworks, but now I know the intricate details.

“To be part of the landscape of such an historic team and amazing organization has been an awesome experience.”

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Social work student finds his niche with Dodgers internship

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