Domonique Jones, 22, a graduate of the University of California, Merced, is a Capital Fellow working full time in state Sen. Robert Hertzberg’s office. But her road to Sacramento was anything but easy.
She faced domestic violence in her home as a child and at one point was homeless. And it’s the combination of all her experiences that propelled her to follow a career in public service.
“I worked hard to get to a place where I could assist others who have begun their lives facing difficulties,” she said.
But when Jones learned she had been accepted to the Center for California Studies’ Capital Fellows Program — a program funded by the state to provide a path for the development of future policymakers in California — she found she couldn’t afford the moving costs and other living expenses.
“State law limits the use of [program] funds to running the program and providing a stipend once fellows commence work, it cannot help with relocation or other critical expenses,” said Dr. Steve Boilard, executive director of the Center for California Studies.
That is where the Hodson Capital Fellows Assistance Fund steps in, a fund supported by donations from various individuals and organizations, including Edison International and the late Tim Hodson’s family. Hodson was a longtime director of the Center for California Studies. The fellows can use the money to buy clothes for the office, moving expenses or a deposit to rent an apartment.
“The assistance fund was the critical bridge that I needed to be here,” said Jones. “Without this fund, I would not have been able to participate in this program.”
“It is thrilling that we can help deserving students like Domonique,” said Hodson’s widow, Ruth Holton Hodson. “We hope to be able to do more in the future to help make Tim’s vision of a program and policy environment that mirrors the state’s richness and diversity. The $1,000 we provided may seem to some to be a modest sum, but it makes it possible for these students to start their careers.”
Each year, 64 of California’s brightest college graduates converge on Sacramento to begin a yearlong experience that can serve as the springboard into a life of public service. This year, the assistance fund supported 14 fellows as they transitioned to life and work at the Capitol.
Robbin Lewis-Coaxum, past program director for the Assembly Fellowship Program and chief of staff for Rep. Chris R. Holden, knows firsthand the impact the fellowship program can have.
“It was one of the highlights of my life to work with future leaders. It was a dream job and an opportunity to teach the importance of public service,” said Lewis-Coaxum, who currently mentors a fellow. “The program is an opportunity of a lifetime for fellows to have a true impact on public policy and what they learn here will follow them to whatever future endeavor that awaits them.”
Edison International encourages other organizations to support the fellowship program.
“Supporting these worthy recipients is part of Edison’s commitment to our communities and is an investment in California’s future,” said Gaddi Vasquez, Edison International and Southern California Edison’s senior vice president for Government Affairs. “These young people will be future legislative staffers, elected officials and community leaders. We hope that more companies will take our lead and become active partners to help support this important cause.”
At a recent event in Sacramento, fund supporters gathered to welcome the incoming fellows and support the program. Jones spoke to the group and talked about her journey to the Capital.
“In our steadfast pursuit of public service, let us not despise our humble beginnings as it will be the platform that will elevate California tomorrow,” she said.