On Dec. 8, at the Neighborhood Congregational Church’s Bridge Hall, Just Gather, hosted a special holiday event. It included a Laguna Beach Chamber ribbon cutting, followed by dinner and community education on the fentanyl epidemic. As the first-of-its-kind digital detox nonprofit offering, its mission is to promote mental wellness and positive mindsets for youth and families. The team envisions future generations thriving in harmony with nature, the arts, education, entrepreneurship, and human connectedness. Services are complimentary for youth 9-19, Native Americans and Veterans.
The sound bath was led by Just Gather’s Holistic Healing Lead, Evelina Pentcheva. Next was a ribbon cutting by Community Outreach Lead, Janelle Hilton and the team’s Academic Initiatives & Social Impact Lead, Veronique Marchal. The organization received awards from the Laguna Beach Chamber and local political dignitaries. Approximately 140 guests joined throughout the evening. Orange County Health Care Agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency were both present with educational tables and hand-outs for kids and parents.
Laguna Beach Fire Department’s Chief of Operations, Api Weinhart shared his personal history living and growing up in Laguna Beach. He spoke about how much of the department’s work includes medical responses to drug overdoses. He shared how the opioid epidemic impacts everyone regardless of socioeconomic status.
“This is the most frightening threat that the DEA has ever faced in history, said DEA Deputy Special Agent in Charge Matt Allen, who was also in attendance. “With 100,000 deaths this year alone, illicit fentanyl poisoning has killed more people than the Persian Gulf War, the Vietnam War and all U.S. Terrorist threats combined.”
“We cannot arrest our way out of this crisis,” he said. “It is going to take education like this evening.”
Allen said most youth purchase illicit fentanyl under the guise of other drugs on Snapchat. Just Gather plans to increase awareness through media, podcasts, and website resources.
We Love Laguna Beach, Stefanos Jewelry by Miki Latimer, Laguna Herbals, Life Coaching by Hillary Black, Tankoi Organo, Eco Post Natal Care, Author Patti Fruman, Artist Terrell Washington Anansi, and Alan’s Candles were among the local businesses that supported the event.
During the event, Laguna Kindness Award Youth Winners Joelle Yang and Lyla Cauley received their “Courage to Be Kind” certificates from Community Kindness Leader Sande St. John. The philanthropic young entrepreneurs sold homemade holiday gifts, including honey, bath bombs, hot cocoa and hand-made bracelets.