The Ultimate Side Hustle 

Community Change Agents Step In During Crises

Julie Iskowitz, a UCLA communications graduate, talks to people everywhere she goes—the grocery store, out in the neighborhood, at her children’s school. This former nonprofit professional and current mother of four says she’s passionate about connecting people. “I love talking, networking, connecting friends and neighbors.”

Now, as a volunteer Community Change Agent (CCA) with The Change Reaction, Julie can do more than create good connections. She also can provide direct financial assistance to people facing a crisis.

Take, for example, the father of three who recently stopped by her house near Hancock Park to pick up a set of magic markers she’d posted on a WhatsApp giveaway chat. “He came all the way to pick up a marker set? It made me wonder if there were other things going on in his life,” says Julie. “I started speaking with him and he shared that his wife, a nurse at a county hospital, had recently been diagnosed with brain cancer. He had quit his job to take care of her full time.” The structure of his wife’s job made her ineligible for unemployment benefits, and the family had gone from living on two salaries to surviving on none. He was glad for the magic markers, but worried about covering next month’s rent.

As a Community Change Agent, Julie had the potential to solve a real need. She helped him assess his immediate financial shortfall, then applied for an emergency grant to fill it—$1100, which would help cover rent, utilities, and a needed car repair. The Change Reaction approved the request. Within a day, Julie was able to give this strapped father $1100.

“To be able to help them access the resources they desperately need is fulfilling,” says Julie of her role as a CCA. “It’s the difference between providing a listening ear to someone and being able to come in, advocate for them, and help them fulfill a need.”

Empowering Individuals to Act Like Philanthropists, No Lottery Ticket Needed

Community Change Agents are just one of the many ways that The Change Reaction taps concerned citizens across LA to be part of a positive chain of change. Since starting the program in 2020, The Change Reaction has brought on about two-dozen CCAs, like Julie, allowing the organization to route funds to a far wider swath of people across the massive LA County than it otherwise could. Each CCA has a debit card issued by The Change Reaction. When a need arises, the CCA applies for a grant on behalf of the person through a short, online application. After the request is considered and funded —which is 99% of the time—The Change Reaction puts the money on the debit card so the CCA can take care of the situation within that same day, sometimes even within the hour. The Change Agent is now a benefactor, able to step in and quickly help someone stabilize and stay secure, making an impact beyond what they could do on a regular basis, on their own.

While The Change Reaction’s other key programs work in partnership with organizations such as nonprofits, hospitals, and schools, Community Change Agents are freelance do-gooders. They hold a variety of jobs and avocational passions. Some are super-connectors, like Julie. Others are professional community leaders, lawyers, priests, rabbis, council people, LAPD detectives, and advocates. These are people who, for different reasons, hear about situations that, if left unaddressed, could spiral into catastrophe.  Over the past four years, CCAs have helped pay for all kinds of needs—buying a new hot water heater for a woman in her 80s who had been bathing in cold water for a year, to paying for a laptop for a foster youth going to college, to preventing a family of four from being evicted from their home.

Wade Trimmer, President of The Change Reaction, says, “People always say, ‘If I won the lottery, I’d give all the money away.’ We’re saying to the CCAs, ‘We’re giving you the money to solve the problems you see and take care of people now. They get to look like the philanthropist.”

Stepping In Before Crisis Hits

Another unique aspect of the CCA program is that CCA’s help their neighbors before it’s too late. Take the case of a woman who received a Change Reaction gift for her recent car repairs. “If she hadn’t been able to get it, she wouldn’t have been able to get to work. That could have meant she lost her job, which could have led to losing her apartment. All due to needing a car repair,” says Trimmer. “Community Change Agents are working on prevention. Someone embedded in their community can identify things that could snowball and become catastrophic if we don’t deal with them now. You don’t have to fall all the way to the base of the mountain to get help. You can be climbing your mountain, and we’ll go with you. Your neighbors will go with you.”

This style of funding is so important because it is not available through most social service agencies currently operating in LA, says Trimmer. “If you look across the city at the type of nonprofit organizations that exist, you’ll find shelters, domestic violence centers—things that exist after the damage is done. We need those kinds of organizations; they’re absolutely critical. But you won’t find anything for people who are working and fall into a hard time.”

Helping the Helpers

For CCAs, being part of a positive “chain of change” highlights the intrinsic good in people, which is the opposite view of humanity often presented by the evening news. As so many people in The Change Reaction network have said and written in thank you notes, the experience of directly assisting hard working Angelenos has restored their own faith in humanity. “I am in awe of the hard-working individuals who I encounter,” says Julie.

Some of her most moving experiences have been with families taking in foster kids. “It is incredible that Angelenos will open their houses up to children that need a safe and loving home. I also am amazed when I speak to immigrants who came to Los Angeles and work long hours to support themselves.”

The Change Reaction also asks grantees to “pay it forward,” a request that increases this focus on how much people have to give, and want to. As Julie says, “One of the individuals who The Change Reaction helped packs sandwiches up and delivers them to homeless people. Another family regularly goes to a soup kitchen to volunteer. Several individuals that I am in touch with cook and deliver meals for sick friends and neighbors. I am inspired to learn about the kindness of others.”

As of this year, CCAs also receive financial compensation for their efforts: $50 for each funded request, and $50 toward their favorite charity. “Initially, it was on a volunteer basis, but we recognized that they were taking their personal time to do this, and we wanted to honor that,” says Trimmer. “They are learning their community’s needs and changing their lifestyle in a way.  It’s become the ultimate side hustle. We’re paying people to find needs in their community, bring them to us, and then rewarding them in quarterly payments. You’re getting paid to love your neighbors. We think it’s really worth it. It’s so ‘Change Reaction,’ because we’re always saying, ‘There’s more. There’s more!"