We love our community and enjoy celebrating its people, places and events each month in the pages of the Westchester/Playa HomeTown News.
Our Best Of Readers’ Poll is our super-sized way to highlight all the best things about living and working in Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista and Marina del Rey. With so many excellent restaurants, businesses and organizations in the area, we love giving you—our readers—an annual opportunity to vote for your favorites. You are the real experts and you’ve been helping us honor these outstanding individuals and businesses since 2012. Thank you for being a part of recognizing those who make our community a special place to live, work and visit.
Nearly 1,200 miles northeast of Westchester lies Missoula, Montana, a river valley town burrowed deep in the Northern Rockies. While it’s often recognized for its lush forests and thriving parks and recreation, Missoula also boasts an impressive cultural hub, housing a vital literary and art scene. Arising from this landscape comes Ballet Beyond Borders (BBB), a global festival that fuses education, diplomacy and creativity amongst artists across cultural and geographic lines through diverse genres of dance. Originally launched at the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre headquartered there, Ballet Beyond Borders aims to help youth not only sharpen their artistic craft, but also foster a better understanding of social justice issues faced by groups of people worldwide.
The HomeTown News is proud to present its 8th Annual Best Of Readers’ Poll! Our Readers’ Poll is all about celebrating local small businesses and recognizing some of the best Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Del Rey, Marina del Rey and the surrounding areas have to offer!
This survey contains more than 90 categories and should take about ten minutes to complete. While you don’t have to vote for everything on this list, you must vote in at least 10 categories for your vote to count.
Feel free to encourage your fans, friends and family to vote, but you may only vote once.
The top three vote-getters in each category–The “Best Of” and two runner-up “Favorites”– will be revealed in the Thursday, August 1 Best Of edition of the HomeTown News. Thank you for voting!
Westchester resident, Justin Sather, is proving that no matter what your age, you can give back to your community and make a positive impact on the planet. What started off as a love of frogs and helping raise money to save amphibians has led 8-year-old Justin on his next environmental quest. He is turning plastic trash into treasure, while encouraging others to cut down on their waste consumption. Over the last few years, Justin has been able to raise more than $20,000 by selling toy frogs and through GoFundMe.com to enable him to work on eco-friendly projects like purchasing reusable snack bags and pencils made of recycled newspaper for his school.
It might not be a super bloom, but if you love flowers, make sure to check out Playa Vista’s Ballona Discovery Park this month! The two-acre habitat is home to a plethora of native plants and wild flowers now in bloom, creating a colorful display that is uniquely Southern California. Follow the park’s walking trail to view the pollinator, native and medicinal plant gardens, while you learn about the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem and the history of the area in this “outdoor museum.”
As you admire the colorful flowers, smell the different varieties of sage or do a little birdwatching, take time to read the interpretive signs and stop at the interactive stations located throughout. No visit to the park is complete without traveling through the “Willow Walk,” which leads visitors to the entrance of a Kiiy, a replica of a native Gabrielino/Tongva gathering house where you can listen to audio recordings of stories about the first people of the area.
More than 2,000 families, students and community members came out to support local schools at the LAX Coastal Education Foundation’s (LAXCEF) 2nd Annual Rock Roll & Run in collaboration with Loyola Marymount University on Saturday, March 9.
The event raised funds for 21 participating K-12 schools and featured a 5K run around the beautiful campus of LMU, a 1K kid’s race and a lively expo. More than 40 community organizations, businesses and sponsors had booths at the event, which featured free food, a photo booth, arts & crafts, kids’ activities and giveaways, while music from classic rock tribute band Ab-soul-ute played in the background.
The Rock Roll & Run is the ed foundation’s premier fundraiser and is the only event that brings together all interested local schools for a chance to raise money for programs like P.E., art and field trips.
“We hope everyone had a great time at the event, whether they had a chance to participate in the 5K or 1K, or attended the expo,” said LAXCEF President Andrew Chereck. “We’re proud to have raised more than $80,000 that will go back to our local schools who increasingly need the support of the community and partners like our foundation to be able to fund important school programs. We look forward to continuing to raise more money in the future.”
The foundation, which launched in 2017, supports all local schools–public, private, charter and parochial–in the Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista and Marina del Rey areas. The foundation’s primary goals include aiding schools through fundraising, distributing grants and creating strategic partnerships. Since its inception, the foundation has given back more than $165,000 to local schools in direct funds and grants. Most recently, $15,000 in arts and beautification grants were awarded to nine schools. The foundation is kicking off the spring season accepting applications for STEM grants in partnership with SoCalGas and will announce literacy and teacher development grants in the coming months.
LAXCEF also supports the Teacher Eddy Awards, Teacher Mini-Grants, hosts the School Expo and is always looking for partners to collaborate with for future projects.
For more information, please visit laxcef.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out page 22-23 of the April HomeTown News for more photos from the race!
Thirty six second-graders lined up in anticipation to participate in the Inaugural Westchester Spelling Bee on Thursday, March 28 at Westchester Lutheran School.
The students had been practicing for over a month for the competition, which aimed to promote a growth mindset and create a platform for local schools to collaborate, something that has been sorely lacking in the community, according to WISH mom and spelling bee co-organizer, Stephanie Rosen.
“I love that we came together as a community for the spelling bee. I got to know teachers, principals and parents from other schools. I’m very grateful to everyone who participated and helped with this vision I had,” said Rosen. “It made us a stronger community, and the kids were pretty amazed by what they can do.”
The idea for the spelling bee sprung out of Rosen’s work as a tutor. When she saw that her students were struggling with spelling because they rely on spell-check, she went to her daughter’s second-grade teacher to encourage including it in the students’ word work curriculum. Soon, little spelling challenges became part of classroom activities and the idea to contact other schools for an official Spelling Bee was born.
Rosen reached out to Westchester Lutheran School (WLS) and was able to secure the help of Principal Emily Ingistov, who offered to host the event, as well as WLS parent, Lory Sarlo who came on board as the co-chair. Sarlo, who is also a member of the LAX Coastal Education Foundation, brought the idea to the board, which was eager to support the new event and encourages people to reach out with new ideas and partnership opportunities. The foundation agreed to sponsor dictionaries for all the participants, as well as prizes for the winners.
“We were so happy to host the first community spelling bee at Westchester Lutheran School. I thought it was a wonderful event giving children in our community an opportunity to learn, compete and build upon their spelling skills together,” said Ingistov. “And if you didn’t know how to spell ‘hippopotamus,’ you’re not alone. With a growth mindset, we can all learn how to spell that word.”
When they heard about the event, Open Magnet Charter and Paseo del Rey Elementary School quickly jumped on board to participate. A few schools weren’t able to attend this year due to scheduling, but were interested in competing next year.
Students were given a list of 100 words to practice for the spelling bee. Some teachers made practicing part of a mandatory homework assignment, while other schools made it optional, with students volunteering to give up their lunch breaks to study and compete in practice rounds.
When it came time for the competition at Westchester Lutheran, students were called up on stage one at a time and given words by moderator Dr. Darin Earley, head of the LMU Family of Schools. During the first two rounds of the bee, students were asked to spell words from their practice list.
As the third round began, more than 50% of the students remained, bravely prepared to spell words they hadn’t practiced in front of a packed crowd. Heading up to the podium in rapid succession, students were faced with words like “illustration,” “cinnamon,” “gymnastics” and “memorization,” leaving audience members on the edge of their seats, as students carefully articulated the words presented to them. Silent applause met the students who made it to the next round, and a few tears were shed by those disappointed they misspelled their word by a letter or two.
“I was thrilled to see these kids have the courage to get up in front of a group of strangers and be willing to take a risk and fail,” said Rosen. “For these kids at 8-years-old to be able to do what they did was spectacular.”
In the end, three students from Open Magnet Charter School swept the competition, taking first, second and third place. The winning students were presented with gift cards and all of the students who participated received gift bags.
“I’m feeling proud of myself and I’m feeling great,” said first place winner Aayansh Sharma. “It was hard studying, but I made it through.”
Added his mother Manju Sharma, “Thank you so much to all the organizers who put in the effort and the teachers who spent extra time with the kids to practice. I’m proud of all the kids who participated and made it through. I think that these collaborative efforts from different schools should happen more often. It brings all of us together and brings the opportunity to have the kids’ confidence boosted.”
With the success of the inaugural spelling bee, organizers are hoping to hold another event next year, with even more schools participating. The ed foundation is also looking into the feasibility of an area-wide science fair to promote even more school collaboration.
“I was very proud of every child that got up there. They were all winners,” said Rosen. “They got a chance to stretch their boundaries and that’s what it was all about—a bigger sense of what they can do and showing them how incredible they are. As a parent and an educator, it really filled my heart to see these kids be their best selves and show up and try.”
The Emerson Avenue Community Garden (EACG) is readying to launch a capital campaign to raise money for improvements at the nearly 1-acre plot of land located at Wright STEAM Magnet. Through hard work and dedication, EACG volunteers have transformed what was once a neglected, weed-covered piece of land into a thriving green space with 38 garden/food plots that opened in 2011. The space is also home to a school garden that is used by Wright STEAM and WISH students and staff, a butterfly garden, a California native plant garden and over 50 trees. More than just a green space, the EACG hosts workshops, gardening days and the popular end-of-summer bash, the Westchester Arts & Music Block Party.
The EACG is able to use the space under a joint user agreement with LAUSD, which requires the nonprofit to make improvements to the property, including bringing the space into ADA compliance and adding new entry gates. To create a more park-like atmosphere, the group also plans to add seating areas, create better walking paths, install additional lighting and increase storage.
Sign-ups are now open for the Second Annual Rock Roll & Run for Education presented by the LAX Coastal Education Foundation in partnership with Loyola Marymount University. The event will take place on Saturday, March 9 starting at 8 a.m. on the campus of LMU.
This timed fun run (with a music theme) brings together 21 local schools for a festive day of friendly-competition with the proceeds benefiting education. Last year, $60,000 was raised and organizers are hoping to surpass this number in 2019. More than just a race, the community event also features a race expo with community booths, free food,giveaways, live music, a costume contest and more. Organizers also say there are a few new additions and surprises for the 2019 race.Continue reading →
After more than 70 years of serving the youth of the community, the Westchester Townhouse will finally get the makeover it deserves courtesy of the Rotary Club of Westchester.
Since opening in 1945, the Townhouse, located on Emerson Ave. next to Kentwood Elementary School, has been a hub for youth-focused nonprofit groups, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, schools and theater group, Music West, who are able to use the space free of charge. Without the budget for upkeep, the Townhouse has had maintenance deferred, leaving the charming space in bad need of upgrades. Looking for the support of the community and to bring awareness to their situation, Townhouse board member and Girl Scout troop leader, Anne-Marie Ross, suggested the group hold its first fundraiser in recent memory last April. The open house style event brought out hundreds to support the Townhouse and as luck would have it, Westchester Rotarians also stopped by. After viewing the space, their wheels starting spinning– the Townhouse would make an excellent location for the club’s next Makeover Project.Continue reading →