Festival of Children back at South Coast Plaza

If you've been doing a little shopping at South Coast Plaza and noticed the children's arts and crafts and live performances near the carousel, that's because it's September.

And thanks to Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, the founder and executive director of the Festival of Children Foundation, this month has been designated by Congress as National Child Awareness Month for the fifth year in a row.

The foundation began more than 10 years ago to connect children's organizations with one another, helping them expand their resources and maximize benefits.

"We support on the backside," Daniels said. "We go and pull resources for their benefit."

Today, the foundation provides resources to nearly 500 children's organizations nationwide, raises awareness about issues facing youth and provides grants.

Each year, during the monthlong festival at the shopping center, community members and stakeholders who support the foundation gather to ride on the carousel with their cell phones, calling everyone they know to donate.

And once you're on the Carousel of Possible Dreams, you can't get off unless you've reached your self-determined goal, Daniels said. This year's fundraiser is scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 and will benefit five Orange County organizations, including America On Track and Thomas House Temporary Shelter, according to the foundation.

Each year, the number of organizations that join the foundation grows.

Recently, Huntington Beach-based Colette's Children's Home, an organization that takes women and children off the streets and provides them with housing and a fresh start, became a member of Festival of Children Foundation.

Founder and Executive Director Billy O'Connell said the foundation has provided his organization with a seminar on how to better write grants and has also raised awareness about Colette's cause.

"It is a beacon in the night for us," O'Connell said, who praised Daniels for her efforts.

"I want to thank Ms. Segerstrom on behalf of the homeless women and children for being a supportive role model and for caring about the people in our community," he said. "That speaks volumes."

This year, the foundation partnered with Washington, D.C.-based Youth Service America, a leadership organization for teens and young adults, to hold the National Child Awareness Month Ambassador Program, Daniels said.

Festival of Children is paying for one teen or young adult from each state, including the District of Columbia, to attend a two-day youth summit Sept. 18 and 19 in Washington, D.C.

Each of those who were selected represents an organization that benefits youth. In addition to having their representatives' expenses paid, each organization will receive a $1,000 grant to support hometown projects, Daniels said.

Krista Kracher, a UC Berkeley student, was selected from California for her work with Impact, an organization run by college students with the goal of empowering young adults in high school.

Kracher, who is working on degrees in political science and media studies, said being selected was an honor.

"I know I'm going to get a lot out of it," she said. "The grant and these resources are going to help us so much."

For more information on the foundation or activities during the festival, go to http://www.festivalofchildren.org.


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