Laguna’s parents and kids take pride in working together to help the community.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Hannalie and Gavin Greene, ages 11 and 7, respectively, can often be found helping set up chairs and tables for the monthly meeting of Transition Laguna Beach, a grassroots group that installs edible gardens and takes on water- and energy-conservation projects to reduce dependence on petroleum. With their parents, Taylor and Cindy Greene, the kids enjoy working for a cause in which the family firmly believes: self-sustainable living.
The same is true for the Chapman family—Jonathan, Jennifer and 10-year-old twins May and Ophelia—who volunteer for the Laguna Canyon Foundation because they love the outdoors and want to help preserve and protect Laguna’s open spaces. Meanwhile, single mom Katie Ford and her daughters, Hana, 11, and Sydney, 8, participate in ZeroTrash Laguna’s monthly cleanups to keep garbage out of the ocean. And Peri Doshi-O’Neill, her husband Craig O’Neill and children, Gavin, 8, and Sarina, 5, assist the Laguna Food Pantry and Friendship Shelter to help people in need.
For these families, community service brings as many benefits for both the adults and younger philanthropists as it provides for others. Volunteering creates bonding time while also instilling in children a desire to give back—a quality inherent in the Laguna community, now entering the annual charity gala season to support a host of worthy causes.
OPENING EYES AND HEARTS
“I really believe volunteering together strengthens families,” says Kathleen Wenger, a marriage and family therapist from Laguna Beach Counseling. “It helps them stay in regular contact, and working together on a common project can increase self-confidence and pride. It gives children the opportunity to develop life skills through civic responsibility and helps shape the child and what kind of adult they will become. They learn the importance of being dependable and on time and they experience satisfaction from helping others.
“Working in community services can also help children connect with different backgrounds,” she continues. “In some of our areas in Orange County and in Laguna Beach, there is not always a great amount of diversity.”
Indeed, one of Peri’s goals in introducing her kids to volunteering was to make them aware that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, Peri had her own awakening when she traveled to India with her parents. “That trip was really eye-opening to see how much poverty is in the world,” she says. “They didn’t have basic things like electricity and running water; these were things that I had never thought were special. We are so lucky in this community, and many people have so much. Children who are born into all this maybe don’t have that perspective of how much people go without in the world, even here in Laguna, which is why I like helping here.”
For Katie, as well, volunteering with her daughters is about opening their eyes to the larger world and teaching them the importance of service. “… Volunteering gives them a sense of service and community and giving back,” she says. “I want them to have a sense of giving back. I don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled little kids who just expect to get everything.”
LENDING A HAND
For nearly two years, Katie and her daughters have gathered on the first Saturday of each month to pick up trash from the street as part of ZeroTrash Laguna’s efforts to keep the ocean clean. The ritual started after she found the organization when searching for a way she and her kids could give back together. Jennifer and her daughters also have worked with ZeroTrash and they have helped at the Food Pantry, in addition to their more extensive work with Laguna Canyon Foundation. She believes the volunteer work they do is helping the girls establish a pattern of spending their time on something more than Harry Potter books and the playground.
It was Jonathan who introduced the family to volunteering at the foundation, where he works on trail maintenance and in other areas. Jennifer helps with grant writing and, with the girls, works in the nursery and restoration areas moving plants, digging holes, spreading mulch and planting. “We like hiking and being outdoors, and I like doing manual labor because I don’t get to in my regular life very much,” Jonathan says. “I worked in advertising for years, and now I work in corporate America. A while ago, we said let’s do something that can really help somebody, so we looked around to see what we could do. That was the impetus. We could help, be outdoors and with each other; it felt like a natural fit.”
For Peri and her family, volunteering at the Friendship Shelter and food pantry came about because Gavin attends the Community Learning Center, which aims to instill a sense of community service in its students. Peri worked with the food pantry to create a food collection project for Gavin’s class, speaking to the students about food scarcity, then encouraging students and their parents to collect food, bring it to the pantry and sort it into bins and onto shelves in different categories for people to select from. Craig and daughter Sarina also helped out. A project benefitting the Friendship Shelter, also organized through the school, takes place each holiday season. Just before Christmas, the school’s families collect socks, gloves, toothbrushes, towels, sheets and other items to create gift baskets for shelter residents. The children elaborately decorate the baskets and each resident receives one.
THE JOY OF GIVING BACK
What do the Greenes and other families enjoy most about their work for their chosen Laguna nonprofit organizations? The responses are as individual as the family members giving them, but they all revolve around a sense of shared experience and making a difference.
“Volunteering for Transition Laguna Beach provides a chance for all of us to be together and do something that we individually and collectively believe in, which is a self-sustaining lifestyle,” Taylor says. “Gavin especially likes the outdoors and working on the gardening stalls. We have our own vegetable garden at home and he loves gardening. For Hannalie, she enjoys being part of the group and having a goal to work toward and making a difference as part of a collective effort.”
Making a difference in a big way is also something that young Gavin O’Neill likes about helping at the food pantry and Friendship Shelter. “I think it is important because it will help keep people alive,” he says, adding that it’s especially fun helping at the Food Pantry and he enjoys sorting the food.
For Jennifer, being in nature is a key to her enjoyment of the work “It incorporates all the things I really like: learning about plants and animals and ecosystems and habitats,” she says. “… And another reason we have stuck with the Laguna Canyon Foundation, at least for me, is that they make it such a pleasant place to volunteer.”
The work that the girls have done has instilled a sense of pride in them—something they enthusiastically share with friends. “We were at the trail head with friends one day and both girls grabbed their friends by the hand and said, ‘Come see where we work and come see what we do,’ ” Jennifer says. “ … They had such ownership over this experience and were very proud to share with their friends.”
Pride and self-confidence, a sense of being part of a larger world and practical skills are just a few of the ways volunteering benefits children and their families—all the while bringing themselves closer together.