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.
Opportunities to Practice Kindness
Valentine's Day Kindness Project
Do you find yourself looking for ways to give back with your kids and spread kindness in the community? Join South Bay Mommies and Daddies by making Valentine's Day cards for local hospital patients now through Sunday, February 9. This is also a great opportunity to have conversations with your kids about kindness and helping others!
Click here for complete details, including helpful prompts for those conversations, suggested card content/phrases to avoid, drop-off locations - including our headquarters in Torrance - and more! (You can leave completed cards in the box in the lobby of our Torrance office (1230 Cravens Avenue) Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., or put them through the mail slot after hours.)
Pledge Community Service through Torrance SERVES
Join the City of Torrance for the second year of Torrance SERVES and help them reach this year's goal of 150,000 pledged community service hours by February 15!
Launched earlier this week in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Torrance SERVES campaign celebrates service leaders and empowers volunteers to come together for community service projects that honor the spirit of giving, public service and volunteerism.
Click here for complete details and to pledge community service hours that you'll complete before the end of the year.
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!
The Latest Food For Kids Donations
We are grateful to the members of our community who continue to show generosity and compassion by making donations to our Food For Kids program!
- Janie Cracchiolo in San Pedro donated 53 pounds of food.
- The members of Haddasah South Bay collected and donated 77 pounds of food, delivered by Food For Kids volunteers Joe and Sheila Millman.
- Various medical departments at HealthCare Partners' Torrance Specialty Office collected and donated 406 pounds of food.
- The Muller Company in Torrance collected and donated 422 pounds of food.
- Peninsula High School's Service Learning Class collected and donated 64 pounds of food.
Click here to learn more about Food For Kids, including an updated copy of our Shelf-Stable Shopping List, and learn about the latest Food For Kids donations by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also donate food using our Amazon Wish List!
New Partnership with Herbalife
We are proud to announce that we are now a Casa Herbalife partner! We recently celebrated our new partnership and Food For Kids program grant with team members from Herbalife and the Herbalife Nutrition Foundation, including Rob Levy, Herbalife's Executive Vice President of the Americas, and Jenny Perez, Executive Director of the Herbalife Nutrition Foundation.
"We're extremely proud to support the Volunteer Center and be able to help change the lives of even more people in need," Jenny Perez shared. "Our Casa Herbalife Nutrition program aims to instill good eating habits for children and families, so they may have a healthier future."
After the formal presentation, we demonstrated various ways the Food For Kids program and our donors make an impact on the local community. Our President/CEO Sara Myers led a discussion on empathy with youth from Believers' Victory International Church (BVIC), and Lorena Sandoval-Holt explained how her family recently gave back to Food For Kids.
The families from BVIC also held a food drive, and the Herbalife team worked side-by-side with them - bringing in the food, weighing it, sorting it and packing it into bags for the families we serve. It was a wonderful evening of generosity and compassion in the South Bay!
Urban Plates Pre-Opening Trio
Our friends at Urban Plates opened their third location in our area this week! We were proud to be selected as the nonprofit partner to receive donations during the pre-opening weekends as we welcomed the restaurant to Torrance in August, Manhattan Beach in November, and now Long Beach. Thank you to everyone who joined us "at the heart of helping" as the staff prepared for each location's Grand Opening. We will be announcing the total donations from all three openings in January!
Spreading Cheer with Operation Teddy Bear
Operation Teddy Bear's 25th anniversary year was another inspiring year of enthusiastic volunteers connecting with excited first graders and their grateful teachers. More than 4,000 underserved first graders at 42 schools in the South Bay, Los Angeles Harbor, Long Beach, Lennox and Compton learned about kindness, compassion, volunteering and identifying emotions from our amazing volunteers before the students were surprised with schoolbags filled with books, educational supplies and wellness tools and the teachers were surprised with bags of much-needed classroom supplies. The reactions were as priceless as ever! Click here to watch a video by our friends at the Port of Los Angeles to see some of those reactions and other great moments of volunteers connecting with the students.
None of this would've been possible without our amazing partners in the community who provide funding, in-kind donations, and of course, volunteers! Our program sponsors top that list, and they include the Affinity Group, John Deere Foundation, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Los Angeles Trial Lawyers' Charities, Molina Foundation, Rudolph J. and Daphne A. Munzer Foundation, Port of Long Beach, Port of Los Angeles, QuinStar Technology, Rotary Club of Manhattan Beach, Sandpipers Philanthropy Trust, Sares Regis Group, Valero Energy Foundation, Watson Land Company, Carl E. Wynn Foundation, and Whitney Young Children's Foundation.
We are grateful to the volunteers who took the time to visit the schools, inspire the first graders and distribute the schoolbags, including representatives from the Affinity Group, Bank of America, Beacon House, California Water Service, GreenVetsLA, Herbalife Nutrition Foundation, John Deere, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Los Angeles Trial Lawyers' Charities, Molina Foundation, Moog, Nonprofit Partnership, Port of Los Angeles, Rotary Club of Manhattan Beach, Sandpipers, Sares Regis Group, Simon Law Group, South Bay Junior Women's Club, Sun Chlorella USA, Torrance Refining Company, Valero, Watson Land Company, as well as several individual volunteers and members of our Board of Directors.
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.
Packing Schoolbags for Operation Teddy Bear
It was another awe-inspiring year as volunteers came together, ready and willing to help us pack more than 4,000 schoolbags for Operation Teddy Bear's 25th anniversary year! Volunteers representing the program's sponsors and other volunteer groups worked together over a day-and-a-half to fill the schoolbags with books, educational materials, wellness tools, and a very special teddy bear for local, underserved first graders.
Click here to see a video of one of the shifts in action at the warehouse generously donated by Sares Regis Group. You'll also hear a few words from Drs. Martha and Faustino Bernadett, co-founders of the Molina Foundation, at 1:38 in the video. They have been providing us with high-quality books through their Book Buddies grant program for 15 years! You can also see more photos from packing in the album on our Facebook page.
Thank you to everyone who participated this year - we truly couldn't have done it with you! This year's volunteers included representatives from our Affinity Group, Beacon House, California Water Service, Herbalife and Herbalife Nutrition Foundation, John Deere, Kinecta, LMU Alumni Association, Molina Foundation, Moog, Rotary Club of Manhattan Beach, Sandpipers and Pipers, Sares Regis, South Bay Junior Women's Club, South Bay Touring A's, South High School's Interact Club, Torrance Refining Company, Valero Energy, and some of our wonderful Food For Kids volunteers. Click here for a complete list of program sponsors.
Getting Ready for Operation Teddy Bear
Operation Teddy Bear has been one of our most popular programs for years... 25 years to be exact! Our sponsors love supporting the program, because it means their employees and members get to participate in our heart-warming volunteer opportunities.
We added two new items to the schoolbag last year based on teacher feedback: a Rekenrek Counter to assist the first graders with counting and a STEAM Engineering Kit to help them learn to build two- and three-dimensional shapes. Our friends at Keenan & Associates assembled these items last year as their Impact Day project, and after we saw how popular they were, we knew we had to find a way to include them again this year.
These items were assembled throughout October by hard-working volunteers from our Affinity Group, Bank of America, Beacon House, California Water Service, John Deere, Kinecta, Moog, Rotary Club of Manhattan Beach, Sandpipers, Sun Chlorella, Torrance Refining Company and Valero. An extra special shout out to our friends at Saatchi & Saatchi and Colorgraphics for helping us cut the many sheets of craft foam for the Rekenreks!
Deere Can Build for a Good Cause
Our friends at John Deere ISG in Torrance recently hosted their second Deere Can Build Competition benefiting Food For Kids. This competition to build structures out of donated food cans and other non-perishable food takes place at John Deere offices nationwide each year, and the teams of engineering and software groups at this local Intelligence Solutions Group came up with very unique concepts, some involving 200-450 cans of food!
This project showed such creativity, team work, communication, and of course, kindness, resulting in a donation of 1,295 pounds of food for our food pantry! Each team worked together on the pre-design, and then they brought in the non-perishable food and other elements to build their structures. Once the competition began, they had 20 minutes to complete their creation. You can watch it all unfold and see the final creations in this video!
Increasing Awareness and Helping Local Families
President/CEO Sara Myers presented Connected to Screens, Disconnected from Life: Helping Our Community Refocus on Improving Their Mental Health to members of the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce in early September at the inaugural session of the Chamber's Wellness Plus series. The presentation covered details that we've learned through our research on the mental health crisis, including how screen time and social media addiction are contributing to the issue. Sara also shared suggestions to help the attendees address screen usage with their families and improve the mental, social and emotional wellness of the youth in their lives.
"Sara's presentation focusing on crucial issues facing today's families was informative, inspiring and thought-provoking," said Donna Duperon, the Chamber's President and CEO. "From depression to peer pressure and screen time to communication skills, our chamber members were educated on the issues and were able to take away valuable information to help them day-to-day."
We are also available to provide this training presentation to local companies who invest in on-going health and wellness enrichment for their employees. Please contact Liz Reinhardt, Director of Fund Development and Marketing, at email@example.com or (310) 212-5009 for details and pricing.
The Impact of Screen Time and Social Media
More than 1,500 students and parents joined the Torrance Unified School District and Torrance Council of PTAs at four screenings of the documentary LIKE during the first week of school. Similar to how we listened to the community's needs with our new focus, the school district hosted this event after hearing the students' concerns about the stress and anxiety caused by social media. Dr. Kati Krumpe, the school district's Chief Academic Officer, opened the event by dedicating it to the students. She also said, "We hope today's screening starts a conversation about ways we can work together to help our students deal with the many challenges facing them today."
Following the documentary, a four-person panel responded to questions from the audience. Each panel included two high school students, a mental health practitioner, and our President/CEO Sara Myers discussing things such as finding more balance, leading by example, creating buy-in as a family, open communication, and what parents can do from the students' perspective.
Nannette Nolan from the Torrance Council of PTAs said that it was also "a great opportunity to help parents bridge that divide... [and] understand what students are really facing" in the world today. Click here to watch Torrance CitiCable's coverage of the LIKE documentary screening and the panel discussion that followed, including interviews with Sara Myers and parent/Board Member Roseanney Liu.
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.