Not far from the town’s center, men waiting for work congregate at the day labor hiring area on Laguna Canyon Road. This summer, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 17-year-old Shira Alcouloumre also joins them.
Shira and her brother, Aaron, began involvement with the center four years ago. The siblings have taught many of the workers English using an ESL textbook and helped install a water fountain and an awning to provide protection from the elements.
“It started as trying to repair a community, but it has grown so much since,” says Shira.
At Christmas, the siblings and several friends visit the workers’ homes to drop off presents for their families, an eye-opening experience that she cherishes.
“You see their beginnings as a whole and it makes you really appreciate what they’re doing,” says Shira.
Last fall, Shira and her brother began a club at Laguna Beach High School called Laguna Friends in Need, which allowed fellow students to join their endeavors by meeting the workers and helping with tutoring. In addition, the club raised $20,000 for the new installations at the center.
Recently, Shira’s dedication to the center earned her recognition as one of 15 recipients of the 2015 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award, granted by the Helen Diller Family Foundation of San Francisco to socially minded young leaders who have worked for change. The award includes a $36,000 scholarship, which Shira says will be put to use towards a permanent on-site classroom at the center.
“It helps us further our vision and helps the day laborers in ways that we couldn’t help before,” she says.
Ultimately, fostering relationships has been the most satisfying part of volunteering, Shira says, because the siblings now better understand ways in which they can help.
“We’ve learned to cater more to their specific needs based on knowing them better. They’re definitely more open than when we first started the project. We’ve made personal relationships with the guys,” says Shira.
Irma Ronses, the center’s job coordinator, says the workers welcome the siblings and their friends. “They like to talk to them; they like to learn. They are very talkative with the kids,” says Ronses.
Shira, who will be a high school senior this fall, is looking forward to building on those relationships over the next year, visiting on Saturday mornings during the school year. And though she plans to attend a university after graduation to study international relations, she is grateful that the on-campus club allows what she and her brother started at the center to continue even in their absence.
Indy intern Torie Hamilton attends Biola University.