In difficult times like these, people tend to be more aware of challenges that others are facing—and, as a result, they become kinder citizens. This is the American spirit. Neighbors are coming together for the common good. Not physically, of course, in this time of social distancing, but spiritually. Often, we think of community as merely a collection of people based on their physical location. But the dictionary clarifies it as a group of people with common interest living together within a larger society. As we witness this broader sense of community, and we see more kindness and charity in our daily lives, we gain a deeper appreciation for those individuals and groups who are truly making a difference on a larger scale. Here are a few great local organizations that serve our community’s collective good in this difficult time.
Extraordinary Lives Foundation
+ WHAT IT IS: Serving Children’s Mental Health and Wellness
+ WHO IT’S GOOD FOR: Families with children experiencing mental health challenges
+ WHERE IT IS: Laguna Niguel and Mission Viejo
Mara James founded Extraordinary Lives Foundation (ELF) in 2015. The organization promotes children’s mental health and wellness while supporting families with awareness events, education and resources.
Mara and her family (three children and husband Kenneth) relocated from New York to Laguna Niguel in 2007. With degrees in Psychology and Economics from the University of Rochester, Mara initially helped establish her husband’s OBGYN practice and recently shifted her focus to running the foundation fulltime.
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, this is the ideal time to focus on removing the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Mara encourages families to reach out for help before their emotions spiral out of control.
In 2018, Mara wrote the children’s book “The Power of Piggie Bear,” to help children identify and manage their emotions in a fun and mindful way. Piggie Bear teaches children to love themselves and know they are truly amazing - just the way they are! The book highlights three important tools that anyone can use during times of stress and anxiety:
Piggie Bear's deep belly breathing
Piggie Bear's self-hug
Piggie Bear's empowering words "I am amazing!"
Manufactured by Build-a-Bear, the adorable Piggie Bear plush is available online along with “The Power of Piggie Bear” book. Proceeds fund the donation of the Piggie Bear products to at-risk children in hospitals, shelters, foster and military families. ELFempowers.org
Faith Episcopal Church: Hands of Grace
+ WHAT IT IS: Community Dinner for those in need
+ WHO IT’S GOOD FOR: Homeless and those in need
+ WHERE IT IS: Laguna Niguel
Faith Episcopal Church has been serving the Laguna Niguel for 30 years and founded the community dinner, Hands of Grace, in 2017. The interfaith program provides a home-cooked meal for local homeless and at-risk every Wednesday evening at the church on El Lazo.
The dinners are supported by Mission Lutheran Church, Laguna Niguel Presbyterian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George’s Episcopal Church, Baha’i Faith, and Starbucks Coffee.
In addition to dinner, guests can access shower vouchers (through the Laguna Niguel YMCA), toiletries, clothing, breakfast bags and other food items.
When COVID-19 hit in early March, Faith Episcopal had to close its doors, but that didn’t stop Hands of Grace. Volunteers stepped up, serving to-go meals outside of the church along with toiletry kits and meal vouchers to local restaurants.
Faith Episcopal Vicar Dawn Vukich said, “While we couldn’t enjoy the typical family-style meal inside, we wanted to show this most vulnerable community that we still care.” faithepiscopal.org
Age Well Senior Services
+ WHAT IT IS: Serving Seniors throughout Orange County
+ WHO IT’S GOOD FOR: Laguna Niguel Seniors
+ WHERE IT IS: Sea Country Senior and Community Center
Age Well Senior Services is the sole provider of Meals on Wheels throughout Southern Orange County with operations in nine sites including Sea Country Senior and Community Center.
When the Covid-19 crisis hit, it was more critical than ever to provide meals for seniors. With an increased demand, and senior center closures, seniors were at risk of losing a critical lifeline to human contact and proper nutrition.
Age Well CEO Steve Moyer sites teams of Age Well employees and local volunteers serving seniors in need as “pretty amazing.” He said, “Their well-coordinated efforts were nothing short of heroic as they work on the front lines delivering meals while providing a sense of normalcy in our senior’s lives.”
Normally bustling with activity, this site closed temporally due to the pandemic. Age Well’s Congregate Meal Program was converted to a frozen meal pick-up program three days a week. Age Well is here to support the community during the good times and times of challenges. myagewell.org