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 youth mental health focus, including how we enlisted the community’s input, the feedback we heard, and our progress.
We are committed to compassionately supporting local youth and families through new services to increase empathy and resilience, just as we have through our legacy programs. Stay up-to-date on our progress by joining our general email list and/or interest lists for the Teen Program and Parent Education.
Help the Volunteer Center and Urban Plates while helping yourself to a freshly prepared meal in Long Beach on Saturday, December 14!
Your lunch is free, since you're helping Urban Plates prepare for the Grand Opening of their new Long Beach location, but registration is required and donations are suggested - benefiting our programs for youth and families!
How to Register for the Donation-based Lunch
Click here to visit the sign-up page and follow the steps below.
Click Register and select your arrival time frame:
Select the total number of people attending and click Register.
Featured Kindness Opportunities
Help families we serve by participating in Urban Plates' #GoodIsServed Social Media Challenge!
Post "do good" moments on Instagram and Facebook showing how you're practicing kindness this month with the tag @UrbanPlates and the hashtag #GoodIsServed. We'd love to see the hashtags #AtTheHeartOfHelping and #KindnessMatters in your posts too!
The restaurant will donate one meal to the families we serve for every "do good" post that includes @UrbanPlates and #GoodIsServed during December (up to 500 meals).
Many local organizations coordinate Adopt-A-Family programs to provide gifts to families that may otherwise go without. Adopting a family is a great way to teach young children about empathy and kindness while helping those in need!
Click here for a list of some of the organizations hosting Adopt-A-Family programs, and ways you can incorporate discussions about kindness and empathy throughout the process.
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.
Over the past few weeks, these items were assembled 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!
Piles of Food For Kids
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!
- As part of their annual Scouting For Food drive to benefit Food For Kids, Torrance's Boy Scout Troop 718 collected and donated 1,193 pounds of food, while Cub Scout Pack 718 collected and donated 1,631 pounds of food!
- Girl Scout Troop 1095 in Torrance collected and donated 225 pounds of food.
- The families from Girl Scout Troops 8825 and 70483, and Cub Scout Pack 955 in Rancho Palos Verdes collected and donated 537 pounds of food.
- Kathy Gray and the members of her mahjong group collected and donated 268 pounds of food.
- The team at L3 Technologies in Torrance collected and donated 208 pounds of food.
- Members of Las Vecinas collected and donated 232 pounds of food and more than $1,000 for Food For Kids!
- We also received a dozen boxes of Food For Kids donations through our Amazon Wish List, as well as Sam's Club and Walmart, with more than 200 pounds of food. Only one included who donated, so a huge thank you to former Food For Kids coordinator Trisha Smith and all the other people who sent us donations!
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The Affinity Group's Commitment to Kindness
Members of the Affinity Group work together throughout the year on fundraisers and projects that support the efforts of the Volunteer Center. The group was originally founded in 2005 to help Operation Teddy Bear with both financial and volunteer contributions, and they have also embraced other Volunteer Center programs over the years with kindness and enthusiasm. We feel extremely lucky to have such a wonderful group of women supporting us "at the heart of helping," and are grateful to them for recently providing annual contributions toward both Operation Teddy Bear and the new Youth Mental Health programs!
Empowering Young Women in Long Beach
President/CEO Sara Myers spoke with sixth and seventh grade girls about the impact of screen time and social media on their mental health in early July. The girls shared their struggles around the pressure to look perfect online, how screen time is affecting their sleep habits, and asked questions about identifying anxiety and depression. The presentation was part of Congressman Lowenthal's Women's Empowerment Series and was presented through Long Beach's city-wide WRAP (Winners Reaching Amazing Potential) Program. At the conclusion of the presentation, Sara received a Certificate of Recognition from Helene Ansel on behalf of Congressman Lowenthal in recognition of her efforts.
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.