Second annual Rock Roll & Run raises money for education

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.

1K runners start the race.

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.” 

Runners warm up before the 5K at LMU.

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 info@laxcoastaledfoundation.com.

Check out page 22-23 of the April HomeTown News for more photos from the race!

Posted April 2019. Photos by Zsuzsi Steiner.

Save the date: Ballet Beyond Borders!

A new event is coming to Westchester! This August, Westchester will help host the 5th annual international cultural exchange and dance festival, Ballet Beyond Borders. The event has become a success in Missoula, Montana where it was founded, which also happens to be the second home of Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation President Karen Dial. Always looking to bring new arts and cultural events to the area, she convinced the event’s organizers to bring Ballet Beyond Borders to her hometown of Westchester.

The event will bring together accomplished artists from more than 25 countries for an international competition, with dancers showing off their skills in a variety of genres from ballet to hip hop and everything in

between. All ages and demographics are represented in the competition and the community is encouraged to become immersed in engaging topics and performances that are open to the public. 

Another important component of Ballet Beyond Borders is hosting workshops and special events on relevant global topics like human rights, justice and peace to foster understanding between cultures and helping identify shared values. 

Ballet Beyond Borders will take place August 7-10. The dance portion of the event will be held at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. On Saturday, August 10, the community is invited to attend the free “Creative Crossroads: Cultural Diplomacy in a Changing World” conference taking place at Loyola Marymount University.

Stay tuned for more details!

Posted April 2019. Photo Courtesy Ballet Beyond Borders.

At home with…the Cherecks

By Consuelo Israelson

Relationships are what it’s all about for the Chereck family. Whether you’re talking about family, community or even sports, the most important thing is the connection between people. Andrew and Meghan Chereck nurture these relationships and have created a huge extended family in their adopted neighborhood of Westchester.

Meghan grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida and attended college in Boston, where she became a loyal Red Sox fan. She double-majored in business and sociology at Emmanuel College, which was invaluable for her career. 

“I love the clarity that business provides and sociology helps me understand demographics, people and their behavior and apply that to the business world,” she said. She works as Director of Major Gifts for St. John’s Health Center Foundation in nearby Santa Monica. 

Andrew is originally from Dallas, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin for undergrad and Southern Methodist University for law school. 

“Growing up in Texas, football is king and we’re huge Texas Longhorn fans. It’s a big part of our family, and we try to catch at least one game a year in person,” he said. 

A senior attorney at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, an international law firm with offices in Santa Monica, Andrew’s practice focuses on franchise and distribution law and corporate transactions.

“My group focuses on building brands. We help large existing brands stay on top, as well as helping start-up companies,” he said. 

Andrew always dreamed of living in Southern California, so when it came time to look for a job after law school, he only interviewed with large firms that had offices in the Los Angeles area. He started at a Texas-based firm with a local office, and then transitioned to Bryan Cave.

The couple met in 2007 while playing in an adult kickball league. They were on opposite teams and friendly banter quickly turned to flirting and ended with phone numbers being exchanged at Marina del Rey’s Brennan’s Pub following the game. They’ve been inseparable ever since and married two years later.

While the Cherecks enjoyed living in Santa Monica initially, they began looking for a good community to raise a family and put down roots. Their friend, Ryan Gales, who grew up locally, suggested they check out Westchester. 

“We were driving through this neighborhood and falling in love with it, when we saw a family walking their dog and said that could be us! It turns out they live four houses down and their daughter has become one of our babysitters. It’s such a lovely small town community here,” Meghan said.

“One of the challenges of being a young family in a city where neither one of you grew up, is not having that family base,” said Andrew. “Not to sound corny, but that is why we love Westchester and the surrounding area. We have our support and our family-away-from-home out here.” 

Meghan added, “Our friends are as close to family as you can get.”

The Cherecks have two children: Rylan, 6 and Emma, 4. Rylan attends kindergarten at St. Anastasia Catholic School and Emma is in preschool at First Flight Child Development Center. She will be joining her brother at St. Anastasia in the fall. Meghan grew up Catholic and heard about St. Anastasia from a friend, so the family began going to church there and looked into the school for Rylan. 

“The more we got to know them, the better fit they seemed for us. It’s very much a community school. The vast majority of the kids live in the area. They do a great job educating our kids,” Andrew said. 

“Through St. A’s we have met so many amazing families,” Meghan added.

Both kids are involved in various pursuits. Rylan plays AYSO soccer, Westchester Lacrosse and Del Rey American Little League. 

Meghan said that since the family loves the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the local Dodgers, Rylan was in quite a quandary when the teams met last year in the World Series.

“It stressed him out so much because he didn’t know who to root for! He ended up in tears,” said Meghan.

 Emma also plays AYSO soccer and takes dance classes at So Fly Kids.

The family enjoys lots of activities together as well. 

“We have a power boat in the Marina and spend a lot of time at the California Yacht Club, where we have a group of other boating families,” said Meghan. “When we have time, we like to do weekends in Catalina. Emma says Catalina is a magical island.”

They are also a big skiing family and both kids are learning the sport. 

“I took a year off before law school to be a ski bum in Colorado,” says Andrew. “I loved it! And we try to get back there every year during ski season.” 

They also visit both sides of the family in Florida and Texas when they can, to give their own parents a “grandparent fix.”

The Cherecks believe strongly in giving back to this community that has given them so much. Meghan is on the board at St. Anastasia and Andrew was recently named the President of the LAX Coastal Education Foundation.

“My immediate goal is getting our message out to the community,” Andrew said. “The other main goal is to show tangible improvement and support for all our local schools. We want to be able to point to concrete examples of things we’ve improved and how we’ve literally changed children’s lives or at least improved their schooling.” 

Andrew is also on the LAX Coastal Chamber board and executive committee.

“We love this area and it’s important to us that we’re invested in the community. We want to help nurture what it has been over the years and help it grow,” Meghan said. “That’s why we’re so involved in neighborhood activities we’re passionate about, including the ed foundation and local schools. We love being a part of this community and helping add to it.”

“What’s important to us is our family and our community,” said Andrew. “Those are the two biggest parts of our lives.”

Posted April 2019. Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner.

Local students take the stage at inaugural Westchester Spelling Bee

Spelling bee champions, Aayansh S. (center), Hannah W. (left) and Olivia W. (right), took home first, second and third and received a gift card for their efforts. 

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.”

Paseo del Rey Elementary School (top) and Westchester Lutheran School students and teachers (below) pose for photos after the community’s inaugural spelling bee.

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.

WISH second-graders show off their Bananagrams gift bags, which contained the popular game courtesy of local business owner Jeff DeLarme, a dictionary courtesy of the ed foundation and more.
Open Magnet students celebrate after the spelling bee. 

“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.”

       

Twenty years of parades and community

One thing we can all agree on is that our community, and our country, is better when we all work together! This year marks the 20th anniversary of the LAX Coastal Fourth of July Parade, and organizers have selected, “America…Better Together” as the 2019 theme. With the goal of celebrating what connects us and promoting unity, the theme represents that working together makes us a stronger, more diverse and prosperous nation.

“The parade is such a positive community event, and with our 20th anniversary, we really wanted to highlight that great things can be accomplished when everyone comes together for common goals and collaboration,” said LAX Coastal Chamber President/CEO Christina Davis. “Our parade wouldn’t be possible without volunteers, neighbors, sponsors and our participants, and we’re excited to celebrate what unites us all as members of our community, our city and our country.”

Applications for participating in this year’s event are available at laxcoastal.com/parade and are due by May 17. Entries that include building a float and a musical component are especially appreciated. 

Organizers are also looking for the National Anthem singer for this year’s event. Auditions will be held in April, and those interested in a tryout are asked to email info@laxcoastal.com for more info.

“Since it’s an anniversary year for the parade, we’re working on a few special surprises for our community and spectators,” said Davis. “We’re also looking to book more musical entries and entertainment to make this our best year yet.”

To help commemorate the parade’s anniversary, the HomeTown News is holding an essay contest. Those interested in participating are asked to submit a 500-word or less essay answering “How is the Fourth of July Parade an important part of the fabric of the community?”; “How does the Fourth of July Parade bring the community together?” or “Why and what do you love about the Fourth of July Parade?” 

Essays are due by Thursday, May 30, and two will be selected for publication in the July Parade edition of the HomeTown News. The writers of the winning essays will also receive a gift card to a local restaurant. Please email the essays to westchesterhometown@yahoo.com.

Posted February 2019.

I love my hometown…record shop

As the Westchester Town Center BID Ambassador, it’s Steve Rhodes job to know all the businesses in the Westchester business district, and there’s one that he knows particularly well: Soundsations. The music enthusiast says he stops in three to four times a month to check out the local record store’s inventory, which includes vinyl, DVDs, CDs and T-shirts.

“I don’t know what I’d do if this place didn’t exist,” said Steve who has lived in Playa del Rey since 1990.  “I think music should be available to everyone and having a record store close by is awesome. I always find records here that I haven’t seen in ages, or forgot existed, and albums that are hard to find.”

As the dad of two sons, Jaren, 17, and Jacob, 12, stopping into the shop with his kids has been a great way to share his passion for music and find new bands that they can all enjoy listening to.

“I could come in here all the time,” said Steve as he reminisces about some of his favorite albums. “I can get lost in here. You end up getting into random conversations with people about music and that’s half the fun.”

Steve loves Soundsations and thinks you will, too. Check out Soundsations for all your music needs at 8701 La Tijera Blvd. in Westchester. 

Pictured:Soundsations co-owner, Lee Wilson, and Steve Rhodes (right) show off some of their favorite albums.

Does your favorite local business deserve a shout out? Send us an email at westchesterhometown@yahoo.com for a chance to share your favorite hometown spots with our readers.

Posted February 2019

Bringing art to Westchester/Playa

Jawsh Smyth works on Melting Man, located on La Tijera Blvd. at Sepulveda Westway.

Colorful mini-murals on utility boxes are popping up all over the neighborhood, thanks to talented artists who are helping bring more public art to the community and beautifying some of the area’s busiest thoroughfares.

Noticing that other areas in L.A. had artwork on their utility boxes, NCWP President Cyndi Hench thought bringing the program to Westchester/Playa would help transform the drab, gray boxes into cool, colorful additions to the neighborhood’s streetscapes. She connected with the newly formed Westchester/Playa Arts Committee for support on the project and a call for artists was put out early last year. The committee, which is made up of local residents, business leaders, community group representatives and artists, was delighted by the proposals they received.

“We were amazed at the level of artwork that was submitted,” said committee member and LMU Senior Director of Auxiliary and Business Services, Andy O’Reilly. “The selection of the mural artists was tough! There were so many incredibly unique interpretations of what this community represents. The utility box mural project, and the fact that this volunteer public art committee exists, speaks to the community’s commitment to public art and to our talented neighborhood artists.”

With funding from the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa (NCWP), Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office and the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation (DFCF), with support from the Playa Venice Sunrise Rotary Club, 11 designs were selected and approved by the committee, the NCWP and the city. Artists began painting in mid-January, and all of the boxes are anticipated to be completed by March.

“We’re already hearing great feedback from the community about how the boxes are resonating with people, making them proud of their community and interested in seeing increased beautification efforts,” said O’Reilly. “It’s great to hear that people are excited to see the art, and we’d like to thank the artists who have given their time and talent to help beautify our community.”

The Westchester/Playa Arts Committee is looking to secure additional funding and hopes to announce the next call for utility box artists in the spring. 

If you’re interested on being on the email list for upcoming utility box mural opportunities, please email westchesterplayaart@gmail.com.

Meet the artists

Jawsh Smyth

Playa Vista artist, Jawsh Smyth, works as a graphic designer but in recent years has taken more of an interest in the fine arts.

His colorful, surreal and playful design depicts his alter-ego, Melting Man.

“Melting Man is a character that I started developing to address a couple of things on a global level—like climate change and global warming,” said Smyth, who got some help painting from his children. “But Melting Man has sort of became a representation of myself and dealing with the ups and downs of life. It’s sort of this multi-meaning character.”

Smyth is also the artist behind the 16-foot mural, “Oaxacan Dancer,” located at Westchester’s Cinco.

Check out Smyth’s utility box located on La Tijera Blvd. at Sepulveda Westway in Westchester.

Steve O’Loughlin

Steve O’Loughlin has been a professional artist for more than 25 years and has been creating public art for more than 15. 

A Westchester resident since the early 90s, O’Loughlin’s goal is to use his artistic skills to translate and express the spirit of the community. His utility box painting, which uses his signature knotwork patterns, is an homage to traffic as it flows smoothly and gets us safely to our destination.

“It’s a celebration of cooperation and watching out for your fellow man and following the rules,” said O’Loughlin. “I’ve used this design before, but never in such close proximity to actual traffic. It gave me a deeper appreciation of what the piece is about. I’ve worked with this pattern since I moved to L.A., and I think this is a great application for it.”

O’Loughlin has murals and artwork all over Westchester, including at Covenant Preschool, Holy Nativity Church, Wright Middle School and at numerous elementary schools.

Check out O’Loughlin’s artwork on the box located on Sepulveda Blvd. at Sepulveda Eastway in Westchester.

Valerie Gresham

A toy designer by day, artist Valerie Gresham loves to draw and paint in her spare time, especially when it comes to sketching her dog, Sparky.

Gresham used Sparky, a Miniature Pinscher and his friend, Luna, as inspiration for her playful design that depicts the two playing in a local park while planes soar in the background. 

“Having art in the community is a wonderful way to enhance the community.  If the painting brings a smile to someone passing by, it is rewarding to them and to myself as the artist,” said Gresham. “As a resident in this community, I feel especially connected to this art project.  For me as an artist, it is a great way to give back to the community I live in.  I am enjoying seeing the other artists’ painting on the other boxes too.” 

Check out Gresham’s design on the box located on Westchester Pkwy. at Pershing Dr. in Playa del Rey.

Gloria D. Lee, Leslie Lauerbach-Davis, Karen Taka and Marion Wong

Four local artists showed off their skills to complete a box in Playa del Rey showcasing the Ballona Wetlands. Artists Gloria D. Lee, Leslie Lauerbach-Davis, Karen Taka and Marion Wong are all members of the Westchester Senior Center Art Class and were the only group submission for this first round of utility box murals. 

Lee has been teaching art classes in Westchester for more than 20 years, and the painters who submitted the design thought participating in the utility box mural project would be a great opportunity to give back to the community through art.

Check out the box, located on Pershing Dr. at Manchester Ave. in Playa del Rey, for scenes of the flora and fauna that help make up the Ballona Wetlands and the bike path.

Emerson Avenue Community Garden sets goal to raise money for capital improvements

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.

Continue reading

Mamai works to bring wellness to Westchester

Sandra Kawahito is on a journey to help the women (and men) of Westchester heal, strengthen and restore themselves through Pilates, physical therapy, acupuncture and yoga at her boutique wellness center, Mamai.

Kawahito found her calling after suffering an injury that caused horrible pain during her third pregnancy. Passionate about sports and fitness, especially soccer, she was given the ok by her doctor to continue her exercise regime, which ended up causing an injury that could have been prevented.

Pregnant with her fourth child, she was determined to not suffer the same types of problems and with the recommendation of a friend, she sought out a physical therapist that specialized in women’s health issues and pre- and post-natal care. With the help of the physical therapist and the studio’s wellness team, Kawahito was able to heal from her injuries and felt better than she had before, something she didn’t think was possible after having four pregnancies so close together. Inspired by what she had learned during physical therapy and determined to help others, she became certified in Pilates and began the search for a place to start her own studio where she could share what she had learned with other women. Continue reading

Get ready to Rock Roll & Run!

Local elementary school students get ready to run in the 1K at the 2018 Rock Roll & Run for Education at LMU. This year’s race will take place on Saturday, March 9th.

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