Snapshot: Problem Solver LaVal Brewer of South County Outreach

Under his leadership, LaVal Brewer’s organization boosted its efforts to prevent hunger and homelessness in Orange County.
LaVal Brewer South County Outreach
LaVal Brewer, president and CEO of South County Outreach.

Photo by Emily J. Davis.

The Irvine-based nonprofit had been providing aid to Orange County residents for more than three decades when the health crisis hit. By June of 2020, the need was acute, and growing. “We were mov- ing faster, working longer, working more diligently. It was hard, but it’s what we do,” Brewer says. “We were in the middle of tremendous change, and it allowed me to stop and ask, what are we trying to do? If we’re trying to keep people from being hun- gry and being homeless, we need to do just that. We need to get further upstream.”

In February, South County Outreach collaborated with the county to become a provider for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The group has helped hundreds of families navigate the often- confusing process of qualifying for rental assistance so that they can avoid eviction. “What we are doing is helping people from falling into homelessness. Oftentimes, people come to us and say that they don’t have a computer, or they don’t know what they’re being asked to do. We help them get their paperwork complete so they can have their rent paid, and they can stay in their homes.”

A Los Angeles native, Brewer has worked with nonprofits his entire career. He spent 25 years with the YMCA, running three facilities and eventually becoming an executive director. His time with the YMCA taught him the importance of building pro- grams that address the local neighborhood and always keeping the clients’ needs in mind, something he still applies in his work. In 2010, he “felt the itch to help other nonprofits,” and he started working as a consultant, teaching executives of small and midsize organizations how to make their operations, volunteer recruitment, and fundraising efforts more efficient and effective. “I found a lot of joy in helping directors think through and solve problems.”

Though he’d consulted dozens of groups supporting children, high school youth, and affordable housing, Brewer hadn’t worked with an organization whose main focus was hunger and homelessness before he joined South Coast Outreach. He was drawn to the challenge. “I wanted to lead an organization in my community that helped my neighbors. I have supported families in need my whole life. I’m motivated to solve tough, persistent problems.”

He doesn’t have much downtime, but Brewer always takes time to rest, exercise, and give himself “space to be able to think and understand what’s next.” He also makes sure his employees take care of themselves; as one of his first actions as CEO, he instituted a wellness stipend for his staff so they could “take a special class, get a massage, whatever it takes.”

Brewer has walked Skid Row in Los Angeles and says that although the homeless crisis looks different in Orange County, that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. “In some parts of the county, you wouldn’t know it existed. Homelessness may be more apparent in other places, but to believe that it doesn’t exist in our neighborhoods is a fallacy.” Even before the pandemic, South County Outreach was annually distributing more than 700,000 pounds of food, providing rental and utility assistance to more than 200 households, and serving more than 6,000 O.C. residents through its food pantry. “There will still be hunger and homelessness after the pandemic. It was there before, and it will be here once it’s over.” And so will South County Outreach.

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