Our Laguna: League is leader in providing help

Wednesday was Graduation Day at the Assistance League of Laguna Beach Chapter House.

Five babies were garbed in caps and gowns for the ceremony, which celebrated the completion of the Early Intervention Program, or EIP, for developmentally delayed infants up to a year old.

The EIP, which started 1976, is designed to provide group-based therapy for infants and hands-on training for parents.

"This is our signature program," said Carrie Joyce, chapter publicity chairwoman and retired assistant to the Laguna fire chiefs. "Doctors recommend our program to parents. We have a trained therapist and specialists who work with the children every week.

"And then between 11 a.m. and noon, league members rock the babies or walk with them while their parents meet with a therapist in a support group. All the money earned at the Turnabout Thrift Shop on Glenneyre Street is for the program, which is free, regardless of economic background."

However, membership is not free — they pay for the privilege of doing the chapter's good works or just financially supporting it.

Chapter voting members pay $55 in dues a year, plus a $15 fee. They commit to working in the Turnabout Shop twice a month and with the Early Intervention Program three times a year, bringing snacks or rocking the babies.

Sustaining members, who have been in the league for at least eight years, pay $65 in dues a year. They donate time only if they are so inclined.

Professional members, like Lee Kucera, also pay $65 a year, but they commit to working in the shop on the fifth Saturdays of the month. They also were in charge of selling the chapter's cookbook.

Associate members pay $100 a year, with no time commitment.

Traditionally, the majority of the group's philanthropic efforts are directed toward children, families in need and seniors.

Through the Hug-a-Bear program, the chapter provides teddy bears to the Laguna Beach Fire Department and the Laguna Beach Community Clinic to give to children in difficult situations.

Operation School Bell provides backpacks filled with school supplies and some clothing to several hundred students in the area, including participants in the Even Start Program in Laguna Beach. Jackets are given to the children in the fall.

The group joins with other chapters to serve needy school-aged children living on the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Children get to select two new school outfits, supplies, accessories and new shoes.

League members tutor Top of the World Elementary School students in the Reading Advantage Program and help out at the El Morro Elementary School book fairs.

The Therapeutic Riding Program funds participation for children with disabilities who attend the R H Dana Exceptional Needs Facility in Dana Point and sponsors a Shea Center horse, whose name is Bliss.

Many of the children who have been in EIP benefit from the riding program, Joyce said.

The chapter also funds special projects at the two elementary schools and Thurston Middle School, as well as awarding scholarships to a Laguna Beach High School student and a Saddleback College student who is pursuing a degree related to child development and/or education. Scholarships are also available for students returning to college to earn a degree in early childhood education.

Donations are gratefully accepted and tax deductible.

"Members put caring and commitment into action," Joyce said.

Longtime members were honored on Valentine's Day at the annual Membership Appreciation Luncheon. Mary Jane Yohe has been a member for 40 years; Marcia Tweedie and Betty Williams for 35 years; and Millie Kreber for 30 years.

Kreber was also recognized as outstanding voting member. Gayle Bradley was honored as outstanding sustaining member and Bobbie Howard as outstanding associate member.

Charlotte Graham was presented with the Ada Edwards Laughlin Award. Edwards was a co-founder with Mrs. Hancock Banning of the Assistance League. To be eligible for the award, a member must belong to the group for five years, never been president or previously received the award. Potential recipients are nominated by members of a chapter for their "less visible efforts" behind the scenes. A committee of former presidents of the chapter and past recipients select the honoree.

Thanks were given to luncheon chefs Suzy Bithell and Norma McKibban, "Mary Jane Yohe Show" producer Gayle Whitaker, pianist Ann Hyde and committee members Judy Soulakis, Jean Fitzgerald, Janet Corey, Michelle Higgins, Barbara Scott, Carolyn Lyons, Joanie Porter, Diane Gelfer, Joan Kasman-Schnitter and Joyce.

Next up: Bunco and light lunch Wednesday, a fundraiser.

New members are always welcomed. Sue Immel recently joined after retiring from her job of 27 years working for a venture capital firm that specialized in biochemical and pharmaceuticals.

"Now that I feel like I really live in Laguna Beach — not just sleep here, I have time to do some of the things I had no time for before," Immel said. "One is to join the Assistance League. "

The chapter also sponsors Assisteens, the teenage auxiliary open to high school students. The girls earn credit toward their community service requirement for graduation.

Assisteen members help staff the Turnabout Shop on Saturdays and help Orange County Head Start with supplies for children attending summer camp. Supplies include back pack, sleeping bags, towels, wash cloths, underwear and hygiene items.

Serving on the 2010-11 board of directors:

Kasman-Schnitter, president; Karen Mauro, first vice president, membership; Carol Hartley, vice president, philanthropic projects; Soulakis, vice president, fundraising; McKibban, vice president, Thrift Shop; Kucera, recording secretary; Kathleen Hardcastle, corresponding secretary; Ginny Skelton, treasurer; and Jo Martin, assistant treasurer.

Hartley also serves at chairwoman of the Assisteen standing committee.

Other standing committee chairs: Janene Frietas, buildings; Marilyn Coll, bylaws; Dixie Henry, education; Hyde, finance; Jacinta Loewen, technology; Bithell, meeting services; Joanie Porter, orientation/training; and Linda Dietrich, strategic planning.

Yohe is the appointed parliamentarian. Elaine Merz is historian and Joan Carlsen heads the insurance committee.

For more information about the Assistance League, visit http://www.lagunabeach.assistanceleague.org or call (949) 494-6097.

To donate to small household goods, linens, art, books or clothing to the Turnabout Shop, e-mail allbshop@gmail.com or call (949) 494-5977.

BARBARA DIAMOND can be reached at (949) 302-1469 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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