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.
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 more about what they discussed or look for this month's print issue around town. Free copies can be found at local grocery stores, libraries, museums, hospitals, doctors' offices, community centers and schools.
One of the most coveted items in our Operation Teddy Bear schoolbag is the individually-wrapped toothbrush. While it may be hard for many of us to believe, a majority of the students we serve through this popular program do not have a toothbrush. Some even tell us that they share a toothbrush with other family members.
You can help us get ready for Operation Teddy Bear's 25th year by contributing single, individually-packaged youth or adult toothbrushes and/or travel-sized toothpaste to our Dental Supply Drive, now through September 30! Simply come by our Torrance office (1230 Cravens Ave.) Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to leave your donations in the box in the lobby!
We've also made it easy to support the Dental Supply Drive by adding items to our Amazon.com Wish List. Click here to view our Wish List and add one or more items to your cart. You can choose to have the item(s) shipped directly to us at check out, and if you use AmazonSmile to shop, a percentage of eligible purchases comes to us too! (Click here for complete details on shopping through AmazonSmile.)
Creatively Giving Back
We love to see how creatively our community gives back! Many people now ask for donations in lieu of birthday presents or host Facebook Fundraisers for us and other worthy nonprofits in honor of their special day. Jean Adelsman - one of our dedicated Board Members - shared the backstory on some of her Food For Kids donations, and she encourages you to do something like this too:
"At my stage of life, I really need nothing, so when I first invited my friends to a thing I call kickback dinners, I said, 'Don't bring anything... just yourself!' Of course, they disregarded me and brought lovely hostess gifts. The next time I extended an invitation, I said, 'If you insist on bringing anything, how about non-perishables for Food For Kids?' Now, that was something they could all get behind. Each kickback dinner since has yielded numerous boxes of cereal and cans of all the basics, and now I'm thinking of mentioning this to my Thanksgiving guests!"
Click here to learn more about Food For Kids, including an updated copy of our Shelf-Stable Shopping List. You can also find items for Food For Kids on our Amazon.com Wish List here. Learn about the latest Food For Kids donations and other updates when you follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!
Helping One Another Over a Delicious Meal
We were so glad to see so many familiar faces stop by to help Urban Plates prepare for the Grand Opening of their new Torrance location last week! It was equally wonderful to watch so many people have engaging, screen-free conversations around the table while enjoying their donation-based, pre-opening meals.
We also joined with local community representatives at a ribbon-cutting event as we officially welcomed Urban Plates "to the Boulevard" (to quote Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey!). In addition to Mayor Furey, Torrance City Council Members George Chen, Mike Griffiths and Geoff Rizzo; Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce's President and CEO Donna Duperon; and field representatives for both Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and Senator Ben Allen welcomed and congratulated the Urban Plates team.
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.
Five Durfee Family Scholarships Awarded
Every year, the Volunteer Center awards Durfee Family Scholarships to local high school seniors to assist them with the cost of classes, books and materials during their first year of college. The scholarship fund was established in 1988 thanks to a generous endowment gift made by the late Ev Durfee, who was a longtime supporter and member of the Volunteer Center's Board of Directors.
After reviewing applications from dozens of dedicated, deserving and resilient college-bound students, the following five students were selected to receive $1,000 Durfee Scholarships in recognition of their commitment to their academic endeavors, while dedicating time to serving their communities. Each recipient also maintained a positive attitude while overcoming adversity. We were proud to honor each of them at the Heart to Heart Gala, and we wish all them success as they embrace their bright futures ahead!
- Jazmin Cuevas is graduating from Phineas Banning High School. She will attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where she plans to study sociology and become a teacher.
- Karla Diego is graduating from Hawthorne High School. She will attend the University of California, Los Angeles, where she plans to study English.
- Erika Morales is graduating from North Torrance High School. She will attend California State University, Fullerton, where she plans to study nursing science.
- Janilka Nettle-Salazar is graduating from San Pedro High School. She will attend California State University, Long Beach, where she plans to study biology as a pre-med student.
- Julianna Pelayo is graduating from Leuzinger High School. She will attend California State University, Long Beach, where she plans to study environmental engineering.
Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force
We are proud to announce the launch of the Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, a local effort in support of Project 2025, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s nationwide initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. 20 percent by 2025. Representatives from 18 organizations serving youth in L.A. County’s Service Planning Area (SPA) 8 helped us kick-off Mental Health Month on May 1 with the official launch of the Task Force.
Following a successful launch, the cross-sector group of local organizations and agencies has grown impressively, as has the group's progress. The Task Force now consists of 50+ members who meet monthly to share knowledge and best practices; identify resources and gaps; and collaborate on specific, local efforts. Members also recently finalized the purpose, goals and proposed outcomes for the Task Force. Click here for complete details, including a list of the organizations and agencies represented.
Declaring May as Mental Health Month
We are proud to report that May was officially declared as Mental Health Month in a State Resolution by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi and a Proclamation from Mayor Patrick Furey on behalf of the City of Torrance. Both the State Declaration and the Proclamation also recognized our innovative, new youth mental health focus and the launch of the collaborative Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, as did a Certificate of Congressional Recognition from Congressman Ted Lieu and a Commendation from Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn. We're so grateful for the support our local officials continue to provide.
The Volunteer Center is a participant of the UCommunity - UPrinting Sponsorship Program.