Please Note: The Court Referred Community Service Offices are now open with limited resources. However, all HAM classes are postponed until further notice. Click here for more information.
All guests must wear masks and practice social distancing when visiting the Volunteer Center. Plexiglas barriers have been added for everyone’s safety. In addition, we ask that you do not enter the building if you are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough.
Our COVID-19 Response:
Our New Focus and How We're Engaging Hearts and Minds
Three years ago, when we began our strategic planning process to identify the community’s current needs, we never imagined the severe crisis we would find. Many of you have shared stories about the youth you know, the heart-wrenching pain they are facing, and how their suffering is affecting both their families and the community.
While there are many factors contributing to youth mental health crisis, we are focusing on the top issues identified by our community: excessive screen time and social media addiction, combined with the inescapable pressure to be perfect at all costs. Click here to learn more about our new focus, including how we enlisted the community’s input, the feedback we heard, and our progress.
We are now working on turning all of that information and experience into programs for local youth and families with the help of mental health practitioners. We’ve also updated our existing programs to focus on building empathy and identifying feelings. We’re calling this all-encompassing approach Engaging Hearts and Minds and you can learn more here.
Stay up-to-date on our progress by joining our general email list and/or interest lists for the Teen and Parent Education programs.
Emotions, Questions, Empathy and Kindness
It's been difficult for us to figure out what to post about what's going on right now, so we looked to one of our heroes - Mr. Rogers. Learn the story behind the images to the right here.
To our neighbors throughout the South Bay, Harbor and Long Beach communities, we know you are feeling a variety of emotions right now and your children may be asking questions, so we've gathered a few resources to help you.
We encourage you to focus on empathy and kindness in any conversation you may have, because as Mr. Rogers also said, "In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers."
- 7 Books That Inspire Empathy In Children by World Reader
- A Clinical Perspective on Talking to Kids About Racism by Kenya Hameed, PsyD and Jamie Howard, PhD - two of the Child Mind Institute's expert clinicians
- Anti-Racist Resources from the Greater Good Science Center, including past pieces that explore the potential to reduce prejudice in society and in ourselves
- A variety of resources for families related to the unrest and racial bias from our friends at South Bay Families Connected
Making Strides with Your Support
It's hard to believe that it's been three months since schools closed and we made special arrangements to continue delivering weekly bags of food through our partner schools. As you can imagine, being able to help families-in-need right now - thanks to the continued generosity of our community - has definitely been a bright spot for us.
We truly couldn't have done it without you, so we wanted to take a moment to thank each and every one of you who has made generous donations over the past few months. This includes a few local organizations we have yet to acknowledge for supporting our efforts: Girl Scout Troop 70755, Hermosa Beach Kiwanis Club, Hermosa Friends Foundation and South Bay Junior Woman's Club - we thank you!
We are also grateful for the renewed support of a number of our major sponsors, including our friends at Chevron, Port of Long Beach, Torrance Memorial, and the Rudolph J. and Daphne A. Munzer Foundation. This year, the Munzer Foundation took COVID-19 and the immediate needs of their community partners into account when they made their funding decisions. We applaud the initiative they've shown in providing support where it's needed most!
In the midst of all of this, we're excited to share that our second year as a Casa Herbalife partner is now underway! In addition to generous grant funding for Food For Kids, this partnership connects us with an amazing group of people from Herbalife Nutrition and the Herbalife Nutrition Foundation who are so supportive of the local community, especially when it comes to childhood nutrition. As an added bonus, the families we serve will receive food in the wonderful, reusable Herbalife bags pictured above, as well as coordinating notebooks, which we hope they will use to write about their feelings and emotions.
Click here to join us with a donation or increase your support before our fiscal year ends on June 30!
Kind Acts: Providing Masks and More
We love seeing examples of kindness and compassion in our community everywhere we turn, and we continue to see them daily! A huge thank you to our friends at the Molina Foundation and SCORE Sports in Wilmington for donating reusable face masks for the families we serve through Food For Kids. When we began distributing the masks with our weekly bags of food, some of the families told us that they already had masks, so they would rather leave the donated masks for the families who truly need them... kindness and compassion abound - right when we need it most!
We were also delighted to be able to once again join Torrance Unified School District's Building Bridges Collaborative and Torrance Council of PTAs' Project Hope as they prepared and provided supply boxes filled with non-perishable food, school supplies and hygiene products to the district's homeless families earlier this month. We contributed another 30 bags of food and the helping hands of our volunteers, plus we passed along some of the Herbalife bags and notebooks, as well as some of the donated masks, showing that making a difference together is at the heart of what we do!
Celebrating Service to the Community
We recently had a socially-distant visit from Torrance Council of PTAs Board Member Cindy Shields. She delivered some of the items we would've received at their Honorary Service Awards Dinner, originally scheduled for late March.
The packaged included the beautiful artwork by student Zoe Y. shown here, which was going to be part of our table's centerpiece at the event, as well as Certificates of Recognition from Congressman Ted Lieu, Senator Ben Allen, the City of Torrance, and the Torrance Unified School District Board of Education.
We are so grateful to the Torrance Council of PTAs for selecting us to receive one of this year's Honorary Service Awards, and we look forward to many more years of working together to help the students and families in our community!
More Food For Kids - Literally!
We are grateful to the members of our community who continue to help us keep our pantry shelves stocked with donations to our Food For Kids program!
The Gaddamadugu Family of Torrance donated 68 pounds of food!
Members of the Gajanan Maharaj America Devotees Parivar in Torrance came back again, this time donating more than 200 pound of food - nearly twice what they donated last time!
Members of the Social Ministry at Graceway Church in Torrance returned to bring us a new donation containing 116 pounds of food!
Our friends at Journey of Faith continued regular drop-offs in lieu of their quarterly Pop-Up Pantry, donating another 1,357 pounds of food - including 124 already-packed bags - bringing their total this spring to nearly 3,000 pounds and counting!
Our friends at Sandpipers also continued to help us keep our pantry stocked, with members donating more than 300 pounds of food since they began scheduling weekly drop-off appointments!
We are currently accepting food donations by appointment only, and we have the greatest need for more canned vegetables, breakfast foods, jelly and peanut butter in regular-sized, non-breakable containers. Click here for complete details about our temporary food donation procedures, our Shelf-Stable Shopping List with details about all of the items we're looking for, and more!
AmazonSmile's Effortless Giving Update
Great news - it's now easier to shop through AmazonSmile when you use a mobile device! The latest update of the Amazon Shopping app for iOS and Android includes an AmazonSmile setting.
Once you turn on the new setting, Amazon will donate a portion of eligible items to your selected charitable organization - hopefully us! - every time you use the app to shop. Make sure your app is up-to-date first, so you see the new AmazonSmile option under Settings. Click here to learn more, including the various ways you can shop using AmazonSmile.
Speaking of Amazon, we updated our Amazon Wish List with our most-needed items at the top, making it easy to donate to Food For Kids, since you can have the items shipped directly to us at check out! Also, since the deliveries from our Wish List don't always reveal who sent the items, we would love it if you could send us an email letting us know what to expect.
Food For Kids Funding and Beyond
When schools closed and we began making special arrangements with school staff so we could continue to help local families in need, we also saw an increased need for our weekly bags of food as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. That's when we began reaching out to our partners and supporters like you to help us meet the needs of those families - and you did!
We are thrilled to announce that our friends at Bank of America are also helping us as we continue to meet that need with a $15,000 grant for Food For Kids! In sharing the news, Raul A. Anaya, Bank of America Market President for Greater Los Angeles, said: "The Coronavirus has created new challenges for kids and families ranging from greater food insecurity to physical and behavioral health needs, which makes organizations like Volunteer Center so important to support."
Photo taken last year prior to COVID-19: Bank of America's Small Business Banking Team for the South Bay and Long Beach with their dental supply donation for Operation Teddy Bear.
We have also received support for Food For Kids from the Kroger Foundation Co., in partnership with Ralph's operating division, and the Sempra Energy Foundation's COVID-19 Nonprofit Hardship Fund.
We are extremely grateful for these new opportunities to join together and make a difference in our community, but it is really your support that allows us to continue to fulfill our mission. As nearly every nonprofit organization struggles with the impact of COVID-19, we are more grateful than ever for each and every one of our donors and supporters.
We recently updated the donor page on our website to recognize the generous gifts we've received throughout the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Click here to look it over and make sure we acknowledged you correctly - please email us and let us know if any corrections need to be made! You can also join this growing list (or move up a level!) by making a gift to support our programs, new focus or greatest need.
Celebrating Torrance Volunteers & Community
We are proud to congratulate our friend and extremely dedicated volunteer, Bob Habel, for receiving one of this year's Older American Awards from the City of Torrance and the Commission on Aging and Community Services. The award is given annually to Torrance volunteers who go above-and-beyond to help in the community, and that certainly describes Bob!
The City of Torrance is also putting together a series of Public Service Announcements (PSAs) highlighting Torrance Cares Connections in our community. Our staff and Food For Kids volunteers were thrilled to take part, showing how we "take care of those in need." Click here to watch the first PSA and see if you can find us. Hint: Look for the big, red heart!
We are so grateful for everything that our Food For Kids volunteers do to help us serve families in need through our partner schools. While our older volunteers are remaining safe in their homes right now, we look forward to the day we can see their smiling faces in our pantry once again!
Apply for our new Teen Program, Connecting IRL
We are accepting applications for our NEW Teen Program, Connecting IRL (In Real Life)! If you know a teen who is struggling with screen time and wants a safe space to connect with others in real life, where they can share their thoughts and feelings, encourage them to apply for this new, first-of-its-kind program for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Taught by Evan Papadakis, LCSW - a local, licensed mental health professional - the program will be held on five Saturdays, 2:00-4:00 p.m., this Spring* (except the first session, ending at 4:30 p.m.) at the Volunteer Center in Torrance.
To apply, interested teens should complete the online application for one of the limited openings.
We understand that it's difficult to consider various programs and events right now, in light of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of in-person activities in the near future.
If you know a teen who would be interested in participating in the program, please encourage them to apply. Applying does not obligate teens to participate. However, it does give them priority consideration, and they will be the first to know when the new dates are scheduled.
Click here for complete details, a link to the online application, and a list of FAQs that include details about our COVID-related modifications.
More Screenings of the Documentary LIKE
We recently partnered with the CARS Foundation to present a screening of the documentary LIKE, followed by a discussion panel at Leuzinger High School. More than 100 students, parents and school staff - 98% of whom reported owning a cell phone/smartphone - attended the event to learn more about the impact of screen time and social media on our lives.
The panel, moderated by President/CEO Sara Myers, featured high school student Roberto Hernandez, parent Henry Martinez, District Social Worker Kevin Brown, Social Work Intern Kelly Lovejoy, and Associate Principal Jose Varela. Student Roberto Hernandez said the film portrayed the issue well. He admitted that he uses his phone before bed and has noticed how it affects his ability to get enough sleep. Associate Principal Jose Varela said the film definitely hit home, since he's the father of a teenager, and he shared that a vast majority of the conflicts at the school are caused by something someone said or saw on social media.
The planned Long Beach and Torrance screenings of the documentary LIKE - originally scheduled for April 29 and May 8 - have been postponed due to the suspension of community activities and school district closures. We will continue to update you about the screenings as details evolve.
Celebrating Community Support with Urban Plates
Earlier this month, our friends at Urban Plates presented members of our Board and staff with a check for $9,000 - the total donations contributed through our community partnership during the trio of pre-opening events in Torrance, Manhattan Beach and Long Beach!
This feel-good story and donation was made possible by YOU - our wonderful community - who joined us "at the heart of helping" as we welcomed Urban Plates to the community! Your donations support our programs, and at the same time, you helped their teams prepare for the three restaurant openings. Special thanks to everyone at Urban Plates for selecting us for this partnership, and helping more local families enjoy healthy meals and conversations around the table. You can see coverage of the recent check presentation on last week's episode of Torrance Citi CABLE's This Week in Torrance.
Honored with a Service Award from TCPTA
The Torrance Council of PTAs announced that the Volunteer Center was selected as one of this year's Honorary Service Award recipients at their February meeting. All of the recipients, including our wonderful community partners at Journey of Faith, will be celebrated at the Honorary Service Awards Dinner in March.
Council President Denise Spellman shared: "The Volunteer Center epitomizes this special award and serves as an inspiration for all you have accomplished in and around the South Bay. We are thrilled to honor your 50 years of devoted service to those in need and excited to see what your latest projects (mental health awareness and screen time education) will yield."
This award is the highest honor given by the PTA organization, recognizing an individual or organization for outstanding service to the students and families in the community - in pursuit of better things for all of us - according to Honorary Service Award Chair, Nannette Nolan, who was also featured in the Daily Breeze/Press Telegram article on our new focus last fall. We are honored to join the distinguished list of recipients, which reads like a 'Who's Who' of Torrance, and we are grateful to Council Board Member Cindy Shields for nominating us!
Operation Teddy Bear's 25th Anniversary
We recently celebrated Operation Teddy Bear's 25th Anniversary at a Torrance City Council Meeting, where Mayor Pat Furey presented the Volunteer Center with a proclamation honoring this momentous occasion, the program's impact and our continued service to the community (thanks to so many of you)!
President/CEO Sara Myers thanked the City for their ongoing support and specifically acknowledged the Economic Development Department for the way they support and connect businesses in Torrance, which also led to a beautiful example of the community-wide effort and impact that makes Operation Teddy Bear possible.
Thanks to a new relationship with the Sares Regis Group, all of this year's Operation Teddy Bear preparation and packing activities took place in a fantastic, donated warehouse space conveniently located in Torrance - right up the road from the Volunteer Center. Members of the Sares Regis team also volunteered at our packing event, visited schools to help teach our signature lesson in kindness and identifying emotions, and distributed the bags they helped pack!
Lessons in Empathy
We recently hosted a group of Daisy Scouts from Torrance's Girl Scout Troop 9075 to participate in a new addition to our popular volunteer-driven programs aimed at increasing empathy and resilience in local youth. When the troop visited the Volunteer Center, we talked with the first graders about how we help local students their age through Operation Teddy Bear, which included a hands-on demonstration of one of the program's in-class exercises - hugging bears, taking deep breaths and talking about our feelings!
We then introduced them to Food For Kids by reading "Maddie's Fridge" by Lois Brandt, taking a tour of the pantry, talking about how it feels to be hungry, and relating those feelings to the families we help through the program. The visit ended with another hands-on activity - packing bags of food, and an opportunity for the girls to pick out what went into each bag in order to create meals for the families we serve.
The girls and their moms (and one grandmother!) helped us pack 75 bags, and everyone left with a greater sense of empathy, understanding and tools they can use to calm their worries. It was a truly heart-warming experience for everyone involved!
In addition to our President/CEO Sara Myers, the article also includes interviews with local parent and Torrance Council of PTAs Board Member Nanette Nolan; California State University, Dominguez Hills Professor Nancy Cheever; Mental Health America of Los Angeles' President and CEO Christina Miller; and local student Luke Antaky who participated in our teen focus group and spoke at our recent Heart to Heart Gala. The article also shares details and insights about the great work Torrance Unified School District is doing at the school level, including the recent screening of the documentary "LIKE."
L.A. Parent Magazine editor Christina Elston recently interviewed President/CEO Sara Myers about our new focus on Youth Mental Health, the connection to screen time, and compassionate steps parents can take to begin addressing the issue. Click here to read the article.
An Evening of Heartwarming Moments
Nearly 200 members of the community joined us for an evening celebrating kindness, empathy, compassion and mindfulness at our Heart to Heart Gala on Saturday, June 15. As guests arrived to the expansive space inside CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles, we invited them to take their chances on the silent auction and other games, giving them the opportunity to go home with a variety of fun-filled items, experiences, trips, bottles of wine, and baskets filled with something for everyone - all supporting our new Youth Mental Health programs. Guests could also celebrate the evening's theme - and share it widely - by taking a photo at the "Kindness & Empathy Photo Booth," learn more about our programs, and see the display of recent honors from the City of Torrance, Supervisor Janice Hahn, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and Congressman Ted Lieu.
As everyone took their seats for dinner, current Board Chair Lynne Neuman and incoming Board Chair Brenda Williams welcomed guests and invited them to join in a meaningful moment and enjoy the feeling of being unplugged, centered and connected. They also publicly honored the five local high school graduates selected to receive Durfee Family Scholarships (see more below) and thanked the event's major sponsors. President/CEO Sara Myers took the podium to talk about the organization's history and future, as she described the planned programs that will help youth, families and the community look up from devices, reconnect, and practice more kindness toward themselves and others, followed by local teens Luke Antaky and William Brandt sharing their thoughts on the new teen program.
Auctioneer John Kunkle hosted a lively and exciting live auction featuring five exciting packages and a bidding war for a Havana Nights-themed party in a private home. Then, you could hear a pin drop as Jason Reid shared how he lost his son to suicide in March 2018, one week after he turned 14. Jason spoke about his passionate vision to end teen suicide by the year 2030, and his support for the Volunteer Center's work and new programs. Community members were also encouraged to pledge their support for our new programs, which many did quite generously. Finally, Dr. Vernon Williams revealed that Steve and Khryste Griswold won the popular 52-Card Draw prize - a trip to San Diego - before we invited all the guests to the dance floor.
The Heart to Heart Gala was generously sponsored by Torrance Refining Company; ActivePDF, Inc.; California Water Service; Chevron; Griswold & Griswold Insurance Agency; Torrance Memorial; Continental Development Corporation; The South Bay Bar Association; Torrance Community Credit Union; The Hans and Dianne Bozler Trust; Steven A. Kovary, CPA and Company; and the Friends & Family of Sara Myers. Click here for complete details, including a list of auction donors, wine donors and additional supporters. Click here for videos of the evening's remarks.
The Volunteer Center is a participant of the UCommunity - UPrinting Sponsorship Program.