Learning center named after young girl

On Sunday, the Maddie James Foundation will celebrate the naming of the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center at Dana Point's Ocean Institute. The event will be catered by Newport Coast's Zov's Bistro.

Maddie James, 5, died in March after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor only a couple months prior.

A camper at the Ocean Institute, her parents, Kajsa James and Collie James, made it their mission to raise $1 million to name the new addition to the institute after their daughter, it being one of her favorite places.

In less than three months, they raised the ambitious amount.

Bethany Hamilton, the inspiration for the film "Soul Surfer," is the celebrity chairwoman for the foundation. Hamilton, a professional surfer, lost her left arm in a shark attack when she was 13.

"I'm stoked to help spread the word about the Maddie James Foundation and to honor this brave little girl's memory," Bethany Hamilton said in a statement. "Maddie and I both love the ocean, so it is a privilege to help share what we care about so deeply — to encourage and educate future generations on the importance of the sea and its wildlife."

Armen Karamardian, son of Zov Karamardian and high school friend of Kajsa James, wanted to find a way to get involved.

When Kajsa James was organizing the celebrity dinner, she felt that Zov's Bistro, which has locations in Newport Coast and Irvine, would be the perfect fit.

"I love Zov's, not just because of Armen, but because it's an amazing place," James said. "It'll be nice to have them as the caterer because it's delicious, but to have a dear friend there as well is fantastic."

Karamardian said the family jumped at the chance.

"When I heard about Maddie's illness and what Kajsa was embarking on with the Maddie James Foundation, it touched our families like it did many other families and we wanted to help," he said.

On May 20, Kajsa James found out they had reached the magic number and couldn't have been more surprised, she said.

On June 11, which would have been Maddie's sixth birthday, they dedicated the center in her name.

"We're doing the dinner to thank the people that got us where we're at," she said.

For more information about the Maddie James Foundation, visit maddiejamesfoundation.org.

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