Little Known Heroes Gain the Spotlight


By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent

Sophia Landers, left, and Jordan Trautwein describe their project at last week’s Laguna Hero Fest. Photo by Robin Wethe-Altman

As a teen-age Laguna Beach lifeguard, Jacquelin Reed was responsible for keeping beachgoers out of the water on days when bacteria was present or due to the presence of contaminated urban runoff.  From then on, she pledged to do what she could and find a career where she could better the quality of water for all.  “I wanted everyone to use the ocean as a resource and help to maintain it.”

An LBHS ‘04 and USC ‘08 graduate, Reed, 26, was captured on film by her sister, Juli, who demonstrated Reed’s successes, her rise to become a nationally recognized engineer and presenter at a Department of Homeland Security convention, as well as her altruistic roots and initial motivations.

In the film, the American Society of Civil Engineers showcases Reed, who now lives in Austin, Tex. as one of 2012’s new faces in the field. The anonymous nomination is intended as recognition of Reed’s volunteerism and community service, particularly her time in Engineers Without Borders. While in college, Reed devoted 20 hours a week to the program, culminating in a trip to Honduras where she put into practice her passion for solving engineering problems faced by people in need, “to mitigate such inequity.”

And Reed is just the type of subject one might expect at last week’s fifth annual Laguna Hero Fest. A two-man jazz ensemble greeted early arrivals to Seven Degrees on Thursday, Oct. 11, who had come to recognize local upstanding citizens and productive efforts within the community presented by the Laguna-based non-profit My Hero Project. The gathering represented the junction of art and film projects, music, and the recognition of local heroes.  These heroes, who would otherwise mostly go unacknowledged, enact constructive pursuits of varying scale, benefitting the town, the state, and the world.

Laguna Hero Fest attempts to foster a sense of appreciation and reflection on the character of heroes: what are their character traits and why do we find them admirable? “We want people to feel empowered, to say, ‘If those people can do it, then anybody can make an impact.’  We want them to walk away with the inspiration to take action in the community.” said Wendy Milette, the fest’s director.

“With new media and film,” said Milette, “there are new ways of telling stories.  We can keep that impact alive with a legacy realized through artwork.”

Last week’s event also showcased the results of a new program begun this year between the My Hero Project and the Boys and Girls Club, called the Celebrate Eco Heroism Program, which encouraged club members to produce music, films, and artwork. In between web exploration, claymation and learning about video, club members made documented field trips to Crystal Cove and the wilderness park, said the club’s art director, Emily Murray. “We’re presenting kids with who heroes are,” she said. “They’re made aware of local issues and the people making a difference every day.  It’s an opportunity to see how they can do things to influence others.”

Two young ones took it to heart following the 12-week program last spring.

Sophia Landers and Jordan Trautwein raised $113 for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an association society Sophia thought “would be a good thing because my grandmother helped out the ASPCA a lot, so it kind of got passed on.”

Sophia received a letter back from the society informing her the money raised went to help 1,600 animals.

Sophia was also responsible for a film at the festival called “The Beach,” which she created during the Eco Heroism Program, prompted by her intrigue and curiosity upon learning how much water spanned the planet. Sophia, a fourth-grader at Top of the World School, says that her hero is Jane Goodall who inspires Sophia to follow her dreams, for instance, to one day become an architect.

“There are lots of possibilities,” Milette says, “My hope is that people become inspired to be engaged and find them.”


For more info and to see some of the films from the festival, visit


View the film about Jacquelin Reed:

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