Q&A with JVS Outgoing Workforce Development Director Angie Cooper

Monday, October 29 -- When she came to JVS in 1993, Angie Cooper insists she was looking for a job with regular hours, one with the flexibility to let her attend her son’s Little League games. She never quite got those regular hours. Nearly two decades later, after working in every segment of the agency, JVS’ Director of Workforce Development prepares to retire from the agency and begin a new career as a private consultant.

Under Cooper’s stewardship, JVS expanded the Workforce Development Division from a $100,000 JVS department to encompass two full WorkSource Centers, three satellite Career Centers, including City, County, State, Department of Labor and Foundation grants for adults and youth. She initiated the JVS GAIN/Maximus partnership and ensured the program acquisition of Career Planning Center, Inc., which included such programs as the Family Development Network, L.A. County GROW and the JVS expansion into the AntelopeValley.

Cooper, who leaves the agency this week, recently reflected on her accomplished career at JVS.

Q: Take us back to the beginning. What first brought you to JVS?

Angie Cooper: I was working for the City of Torrance and putting in long hours and doing all kinds of work preparing for the City of LA One Stop system that was just being initiated.  I wanted to scale back. A friend of mine, Barbara Trager worked at JVS and told me they had a part time job as a job developer. This was different and less stressful than what I had been doing. I wanted to go to Little League games, attend other school events with my son and basically have regular working hours.

Q: It doesn’t look like you stayed part-time or “scaled back” for long.

AC: No. I started as a Job Developer in Career Services, and did that for about a year and then a position came up to manage and grow the Assessment Center. There was need to develop that department and I had no intentions of applying for it. One of the grant writers noticed that I was constantly keeping data, analyzing that data, and making adjustments based on trends. I had been a Manager in another work life for DPSS in Orange County. She recommended me to Vivian Seigel. I interviewed, and before I knew it, I was overseeing the assessment center.

Q: Can you talk a little bit how your experience with the WorkSource Centers came into being?

AC: We had become a sub-contractor for other County and City agencies, the prime holders of contracts that operated one-stop facilities. I was running around LA managing these subcontracts and getting to know what they did. Two of our subcontracts were with Career Planning Center and we participated in a significant way as a partner in that One Stop start up.  In addition, Claudia gave me the West Hollywood JTPA contract to manage.  We had a small $100,000 contract from the County which then gave us an additional contract and we were able to open up 5757 Wilshire as our own affiliate WorkSource Center.

Around 2004, Vivian was contacted by Eleanor Hoskins from CPC. She wanted to retire, and they needed an agency to take over the Marina del Rey WorkSource Center and all contracts for Career Planning Center Inc. In made sense in that JVS was the only other successful provider for the west side. They asked me to take on that role. So in 2004, I moved over to the Marina, and now I was managing two comprehensive WorkSource Centers and another career center in Antelope Valley plus all the ancillary contracts and programs associated with these Centers.

Q:  Then one day you got a call from an organization called Maximus…

AC: They knew me because I used to participate in their partner meetings. They asked if I would sign their letter of support for a request for proposal that was soon to be released for the Antelope Valley for the GAIN program. I told them we couldn’t do it, because we were going to apply ourselves. I didn’t know if we really were going to apply. I just told them that because I really wanted more information and this all sounded intriguing. Now I started to receive constant calls from Maximus wanting to partner with us. We had all the contacts in Antelope valley, and our staff at JVS was entrenched in the community. Maximus needed us. Before we know it, JVS was co-writing the proposal and partnering with Maximus. Lo and behold we were awarded this thing.

Q: Did you ever find time for those Little League games?

AC: I did get a year of going to Little League games before starting to work nights and weekends. That’s why I’m retiring. It got bigger than I thought it would, but it was worth it.

Q: Of all the JVS programs you’ve been part of, are there any that resonate with you personally?

AC: I love our Youth programs and Veterans programs. I haven’t had the opportunity to be hands on with clients, but these programs have been the most satisfying from the standpoint of serving most in need. At one time we ran Independent Living Project to help kids transitioning out of foster care. That program had the biggest impact of teaching kids’ life skills and being able to assist them to go back to school and work. And certainly with our veterans programs have a personal connection. Every male in my extended family is a veteran. My dad served in World War II and my husband was a First Lieutenant in the Army so I know what sacrifices these Vets have made.

Q: Is the type of work you have done with JVS what you envisioned doing when you started your career?

AC: Sort of. When I was in college, I wanted to be a social worker. My first job after college was for the County of Orange in the Dept of Social Services. Within a year, they made me supervisor for a failing unit and I brought it up to speed. I went from there to the Department of Children and Family Services and did investigation of children who were allegedly abused. I would go out with the police officers and interview parents, prepare reports for court and make recommendations whether the children should remain with parents or be removed from the home either temporarily or permanently. That was pretty rough. When I moved to New York City, I managed group homes for teenagers; a home for teenage girls who were mothers and another for young men between 16 and18 who were emancipating from foster care. I thought for awhile maybe I would become a lawyer and worked for a year in the Civil Rights office of the Federal Court. I figured these kids needed legal representation. I never became an attorney, but my son did.

I think what I always liked to do was make things better. That was my goal: there’s got to be a better, more efficient way to do this. I like the challenge of making things bigger, too. And I still love Little League games.