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.
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.
Families Helping Families in Need
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!
- The team at C.H. Robinson collected and donated 520 pounds of food!
- The kids from the Holt Family in Torrance collect money to help local organizations, and they recently chose to make a donation to Food For Kids. The children presented us with $350, which was then matched by mom and dad, bringing the family's total donation to $700!
- Ryan Rossow, President of the South Bay Food Initiative at Mira Costa High School, presented us with a $200 donation for Food For Kids on behalf of the club's members!
- Our Board Members continue to regularly provide Food For Kids donations as well. Jean Adelsman recently dropped off yet another bag of food for the pantry!
Click here to learn more about Food For Kids, including a downloadable copy of our Shelf-Stable Shopping List. You can also learn about the latest Food For Kids donations and see other updates when you follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!
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.
A Very Happy National Volunteer Week!
National Volunteer Week is always the perfect time to publicly thank all of our wonderful volunteers! We are extremely grateful for all the hours they dedicate to us, whether they're the members of our Board of Directors and Affinity Group, the faces we see weekly through Food For Kids, or those who help us with various aspects of Operation Teddy Bear during the fall and winter months.
Throughout the week, we've been highlighting some of our volunteers on social media, and we've given many of them a token of our appreciation in recognition of the way they touch so many lives in our community with their kindness: a special bookmark highlighting their true value, along with seed paper hearts in recognition of the "seeds of love" they've planted in countless lives.
They Came, They Saw, They Accessorized
The members of our Affinity Group spent National Volunteer Week preparing for and hosting the Spring Bling Jewelry and Accessories Sale. This fantastic FUNdraiser featured a treasure trove of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, watches, scarves and handbags. Community members joined us throughout the afternoon to schmooze, shop and bid on silent auction items, with proceeds benefitting Operation Teddy Bear. We are extremely grateful to the ladies of Affinity Group for all they have done and continue to do to support the Volunteer Center!
Joining Together in Remembrance, Hope & Support
We proudly joined together with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the South Bay Association of School Psychologists last month to sponsor and participate in the first ever Out of the Darkness South Bay Campus Walk at Torrance High School. More than 200 community members representing 45 teams walked together in remembrance, hope and support of suicide prevention and mental health. The South Bay Campus Walk surpassed its fundraising goal of $10,000 by more than $5,000, which will help fund AFSP's educational programs and services in our community.
The morning began with a resource fair and an opening ceremony featuring remarks by Congressman Ted Lieu, Torrance Unified School District (TUSD) Board Member Betty Lieu, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, Dr. Mimi Hoang, a suicide survivor and someone affected by suicide. During a bead ceremony, participants held up the bead necklaces in various colors to indicate their personal reasons for supporting the walk, which also allowed them to connect with others who shared similar experiences. After the one mile walk around Torrance High School, the event closed with remarks by Clear Recovery Center's Howard Baker, Torrance Mayor Pat Furey, and the closing song, "Lean On Me," performed by Dalia Rodriguez.
Volunteer Center staff members were honored to walk with more than 40 other community members on Team Lucas in memory of Lucas Smith, the South High teen who died by suicide last summer. The team was led by his best friend Luke Antaky - one of the participants of our youth input panel - and Team Lucas earned the honor of carrying the banner at the front of the walk for raising the most funds. Click here to see more photos from the Campus Walk on Facebook, and click here to watch Betty Lieu's remarks about what TUSD is doing to help with the rise in anxiety, depression and suicide of our youth.
The Volunteer Center is a participant of the UCommunity - UPrinting Sponsorship Program.