Realistic Education in Action Coalition to Foster Health (REACH LA) is a youth organization committed to educating, motivating, and mobilizing urban youth to improve their lives and communities. The mission of REACH LA is to train low-income youth of color and empower them with skills to develop innovative program initiatives that lead to social change in their own peer community.

Through a comprehensive curriculum which integrates digital media arts and web-based information technologies, REACH LA trains youth (ages 14-23) to design, operate, and investigate programs aimed at improving the social, cultural, educational, and health conditions of their community.

Although REACH LA has a number of initiatives, the Ovahness Program which is tailored toward young gay men ages 16-24 has been making national headlines. This effort is designed to educate and inspire young men to discover their identity while assessing personal talents and skills that can mentally, physically and spiritually lead them to a successful life.

The Ovahness program engages young people in three levels of participation: Individual–participants can work with trained peer counselors in a supportive environment to assess life goals and risk reduction. Community Level–the young men create inventive ways teach others about HIV and sexual health. Through events like the Ovahness Ball and activities such as peer-led workshops and video screenings, the team educates thousands of Los Angeles youth annually. The third level of the program is leadership training. Participants work to change injustices that affect their lives and communities. They engage in educating their peers, communities and civic leaders about their concerns and work strategically to find solutions for positive change.

Executive director Martha Chono-Helsley identified the group’s biggest accomplishment this year as receiving its first Centers for Disease Control cooperative agreement to expand HIV testing efforts and implement Choosing Life: Empowerment, Action, Results! (CLEAR), a one-on-one risk reduction intervention for youth. “The award came at a point in REACH LA’s history where all our efforts were being recognized,” said Chono-Helsley, “This opportunity has been empowering and has allowed us to broaden our reach.

For more information on REACH LA, visit the organization’s website at www.reach.la/