Assistance for 50 years

There were a lot of "whereases" in the City Council's March 6 proclamation honoring the Assistance League of Laguna Beach — but they can all be summed up by saying "50 years of service to the community."

It started with 14 friends, calling themselves Las Amigas, determined to use their energy and skills to meet some of the needs of the community. In the half-century since then, the group became the 29th chapter of the national Assistance League, with more than 170 volunteers and programs the founders could never have imagined.

"My favorite project is the early intervention program — it's probably everybody's favorite" said Ann Hyde, public relations chairwoman.

The project is a parent-infant training program serving families of developmentally delayed infants, founded in 1976.

Five professional therapists hired by Assistance League of Laguna Beach work with the infants in therapeutic developmental activities and give the parents instruction.

During group counseling, parents discuss issues involved in parenting a child with special needs. There is no charge to the families for this program.

"While mothers and fathers of the babies get family counseling, the members get to hold the babies," Hyde said. "It can be hard to part with them.

"When we have a new members' coffee, we show the film and they are hooked."

And they stay hooked.

Former President Mary Jane Yohe, who was instrumental in starting the EIP program, recently was honored for her 41-year membership.

The next prospective members' coffee will be held March 28, chaired by Carrie Joyce, 1st vice president of the chapter.

"We welcome new members," Joyce said. "They are important to keep the chapter running smoothly. Many of us are getting older, and we need new blood."

Members participate in a wide variety of programs, including Operation School Bell, which provides children at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach with backpacks filled with school supplies, socks, underwear and jackets.

The chapter also funds special performances by the Laguna Playhouse for the city's schoolchildren, scholarships for Laguna Beach High School seniors, and therapeutic horse-related programs at the Shea Center for children with disabilities.

Chapter funds provide computers for the Camp Pendleton elementary school and school clothing for the children on base.

The chapter also started two new programs this year that help get eye examinations and glasses for children in Even Start of Laguna Beach and individual headsets for Top of the World Elementary School children.

But all these programs need money.

Funds are raised by sales at the Turnabout Shop at 526 Glenneyre St., which sells used and new donations of clothing, household goods, books, art and knick-knacks.

Funds are also raised by renting the Chapter House on Catalina Street for parties, wedding receptions and community events; sales of the "Laguna Beach Souvenir Cookbook"; and the Los Ninos Tennis Tournaments, which began in 1990.

Some of the funds are donations for those stricken by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

Closer to home, the chapter donated $1,000 to the 1993 Fire Relief Fund and made space in the Chapter House for the distribution of clothing and household items to survivors of the firestorm.

In 2005, the chapter made a $10,000 donation to the Bluebird Landslide recovery effort.

But donations are not limited to disasters.

The league provided $2,000 for Laguna's first canine police officer, Gero, in 1991.

In 2000, the chapter supported the Boys & Girls Club Even Start program with a $30,000 donation, paid out over three years. The donation covered the cost of the room and equipment used in the program.

The chapter has donated books, musical instruments and a television set to El Morro Elementary School and provided housekeeping services for the elderly; reading programs for the young; clothing for abused women and children; and assault survivor kits for South Coast Medical Center.

Members have been trained to teach English as a second language, present career seminars for high School students, and supply Hug-A Bears to the Fire Department and the Community Clinic to give to children in traumatic situations.

Assisteens, the chapter's high school student auxiliary, help prepare meals for the residents of Friendship Shelter.

The girls have also taken over the assembly and distribution of camper kits and are responsible for serving in the Turnabout Shop two Saturday mornings each month. They earn community service hours toward their high school graduation requirement.

Donations of money to support programs or gently used items to be sold at the Turnabout Shop are welcomed.

The Assistance League Beach is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All contributions are tax deductible.

Checks may be sent to Assistance League of Laguna Beach, 547 Catalina St. Laguna Beach, 92651.

For more information about donations, membership or shop hours, visit lagunabeach.assistanceleague.org or call (949) 494-5977.

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