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Lion's Heart nonprofit allows boys to give back

Lion's Heart nonprofit allows boys to give back
Lions Heart members Gavin Reese, left and Harrison Halperin, right, play Jenga with Zeke Eampietro, during a day of activities at the Down Syndrome Foundation Center on Sunday. (Susan Hoffman / Daily Pilot)

From collecting shoes for the homeless to cleaning beaches, the boys of Newport Harbor High School have been hard at work under a new community service group.

For the young men, it's been a chance for each of them to give not only their time, but also their heart — the heart of a lion to be exact.

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Out of a strong desire to have their children give back, Newport Harbor mothers Tori Rimlinger, Joclene White and Pam Terry helped open a boys' chapter of the Lion's Heart, a national nonprofit community service organization founded in 2004.

The Lion's Heart has chapters for both boys and girls in 11 different states.

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"We found that there weren't a lot of service opportunities for boys, so we were looking to have a group where they could work as a team and support local charities," Rimlinger said.

They first thought of the idea after seeing Terry's nephew involved in a Lion's Heart chapter in Laguna Beach.

About a year ago, the three moms signed up for a coordinator's class through Lion's Heart to learn how to set up their chapter.

By June, they officially opened it up for students to join. They have 68 members thus far.

Within the chapter are groups organized by grade level: freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Each grade group has a president, vice president, secretary and historian.

Most recently, the freshmen group paid a visit to the Down Syndrome Foundation of Orange County based in Newport Beach, where they played some friendly games of football and dodge ball alongside children with Down syndrome.

"These are kids who don't really get to go outside very much," freshman Campbell Norris said. "I think it makes a huge difference to them by just playing with them, teaching them teamwork and healthy competition."

While the Newport Harbor boys of the Lion's Heart chapter do not raise money or accept monetary donations, they said they strive to give something else to local charities, something that money can't buy — their time.

"The fact that it's about volunteering and not raising money is really special," president of the sophomore group Ian Hanson said. "We're here to give our time and that's one big way to help the community."

This past month, the chapter had a beach meet-up with The Best Day Foundation, which safely takes children with physical and developmental challenges on surfing, kayaking and other outdoor activities throughout California.

The foundation had each Newport Harbor student buddy up with a child that day.

"I was paired up with a little kid who was about 5 years old and has autism," freshman Jack White said. "He just had the best attitude. Whenever a wave would knock him down in the water, he would just laugh it off. I think he was happy to just be outside."

Sophomore Jason Grew and his 8-year-old partner rowed in a kayak and surfed with a special board with a chair attached to the top of it. Grew went in the water and held the board as his partner sat in the chair and rode from wave to wave.

Since the chapter's inception, the students also collected more than 1,400 pairs of shoes from friends, family and the community to donate to the Soles4Souls Foundation, a charity that distributes the shoes globally to people in need.

Each grade group meets once a month to discuss the charity organizations they've researched and to coordinate volunteer visits for them.

"We had one of our meetings in the back of a car after we drove home from one of our service events, a Back Bay cleanup," Hanson said with a laugh. "It's up to us to set up what we do, and we like that."

For the rest of this year, the chapter plans to host a canned food drive for Someone Cares Soup Kitchen and to assemble food packages at Share Our Selves for families in need this Thanksgiving.

"I know for all of us, we're here because it just feels good to help others," Norris said. "It takes a lot of heart."

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