Season of Giving: Local nonprofits share how you can get involved

The holidays are here and as our thoughts turn to family, parties and presents, it also turns to giving back. We recently connected with some of our favorite Westchester/Playa area nonprofit leaders to learn more about their organizations and find out how people can get involved to support these worthwhile causes. Below are our Q&As with the executive directors or board presidents of 7 groups that are passionate about their missions and supporting the community.


Westside Pacific Villages

A WPV member and volunteer try to take a selfie.

Carol Kitabayashi has been helping “seniors age in place” in her role as Executive Director of the Westside Pacific Villages (WPV) for the last seven years. Based in Westchester, WPV offers a variety of services to its members with the help of pre-screened volunteers that assist in transportation to and from medical, hair and other appointments; help with technology issues; and social/wellness programs. More importantly, however, the large pool of village volunteers provide companionship, friendship and a healing human connection through the organization’s activities and events.

Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization? A. At WPV we seek to strengthen and recreate a sense of community of “neighbors helping neighbors,” with a focus on the older adult population.  Our goal is to enable seniors, often neglected and overlooked, to maintain their independence, dignity and respect, from the homes they love. Our efforts are vitally important as we help combat loneliness and social isolation, which negatively impacts overall health and wellbeing.

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. Our nonprofit positively impacts our community’s area by addressing loneliness and supporting healthy purposeful aging, while simultaneously creating civic engagement opportunities for individuals of all ages by volunteering in meaningful ways. In fact, we have been voted as one of the best places to volunteer for the past seven years, and received a 2019 top-rated award from GreatNonprofits. In terms of numbers, this translates to more than 100 seniors receiving support from approximately 200 dedicated volunteers. WPV provides more than 400 services per month to our client members. 

Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did?A. Many people think that WPV is a physical place where seniors live or a senior citizen center. However, we are not a facility or residence. WPV is an intergenerational community (or “village”) of older adults and volunteers from local neighborhoods who come together to support one another, but in particular, the oldest adults in our community. WPV is made up of people living in the neighborhoods of Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Marina del Rey, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Culver City, Ladera Heights, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach and adjacent areas. There are many ways that someone can be part of WPV; it is not limited to senior citizens. Some people join to receive full services such as transportation and additional supports to stay active and connected in the community and home. Others join the Village to find a sense of purpose and civic engagement, volunteering their time to become more deeply connected to the community through supporting older people who have been part of the community for years. We also recently implemented a volunteer driver mileage reimbursement program so our volunteers can receive reimbursement for driving our members.

Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. There are many ways that people can get involved with WPV! We welcome volunteers of all ages and talents. WPV will work with you to create a flexible schedule that fits with your lifestyle. Whether you are fully employed, retired, or a student, less than 30 minutes a week can make a very meaningful and huge difference in the life of an older person in our community. Volunteers can help with transportation (even if it’s only one way), become a friendly visitor or monthly caller, help with yard work, chores or minor repairs around the house, run errands, provide technology support and much more! 

Overall, you can volunteer directly with the older residents in the community, at our office, or find ways to volunteer tailored to your specific interests. Call us at (310) 695-7030 or email us at info@thewpv.org to learn more.

Q. Who are your top community partners? A. Some of our top community partners are Westchester Family YMCA, Westchester Senior Centers, Loyola Marymount University, Westchester and Playa Venice Rotary Clubs, Westchester Woman’s Club, LAX Coastal Chamber, Drollinger Properties, Los Angeles Fire Station #5, Covenant Presbyterian Church and other local churches and schools.


LAX Coastal Education Foundation

Runners get moving at the Rock Roll & Run 5K at LMU.
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner.

Since its relaunch in 2017, the LAX Coastal Education Foundation has been able to distribute more than $250,000 back to local schools through grants and its signature event, the Rock Roll & Run. Led by board president and Westchester resident, Andrew Chereck, the foundation is working on a strategic plan to bring more funds and support to the 27 public, private, charter and parochial schools that are within the group’s boundaries of Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Marina del Rey and beyond.

Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization? A. My goals for the LAX Coastal Education Foundation are threefold:  

• to support and enrich the LAX Coastal educational environment by providing resources and opportunities to all of our local schools, educators and students, including through grants, training and other programs;

• to provide an invaluable resource to parents and students when considering the unique and diverse educational opportunities in the LAX Coastal community; and

• to be a catalyst for partnerships between our local schools and local businesses with the common purpose of further increasing the quality of education in our community. 

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. Most notably, since our inception in 2017, we have had the privilege of giving back more than $250,000 to our local schools. These funds have included STEM grants, teacher grants, arts & beautification grants and more. In addition to providing much needed funding and grants to our schools, teachers and students, we host free education-focused events throughout the year, including the Neighborhood School Expo each fall and a Spelling Bee for local elementary students.  The foundation also sponsors and participates in community events supporting our schools, including the LAX Coastal Chamber’s Teacher Eddy Awards and the Teacher Mini Grants.

Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. Unlike many local and regional educational foundations, the LAX Coastal Education Foundation was established to serve and support all of our local schools, whether public, magnet, charter, private or parochial. 

Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. Volunteer!  Anyone interested in getting involved with the LAX Coastal Education Foundation can simply email info@laxcoastaledfoundation.com. We are always looking for eager volunteers to help with our events and programs, particularly the Rock, Roll & Run in March. This event brings together the entire community and includes hundreds of participants, but requires significant manpower to put on each year. And, donations are of course welcomed and greatly appreciated. Visit us online at laxcef.org to learn more.

Q. Who are your top community partners? A. Our top community partners and program sponsors include LMU, SoCalGas, The LAX Kiwanis Club, the LAX Coastal Chamber and The Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation.  We also receive consistent and substantial support from LAWA, Cedars-Sinai, Kaiser Permanente, The Hannon Foundation, The Stephanie Younger Group, Playa Venice Sunrise Rotary and Westchester Rotary.


Friends of Ballona Wetlands

Friends of Ballona staff pose for a photo.
Photo by Zsuzsi Steiner.

For the Friends of Ballona Wetlands it’s all about education, restoration and advocacy. Executive Director, Scott Culbertson, has been with the nonprofit for three years and is proud of the group’s education programs including Explore Ballona!, which provides youth with hands-on learning that establishes a strong basis to recognize the impact they can have as environmental stewards. The Friends have spent more than 25 years conducting habitat restoration efforts in the Ballona Wetlands. Its staff, docents, board members, interns and volunteers comprise an array of active individuals committed to serving as environmental stewards. In 2018, the group even removed 20 tons of non-native weeds from the Reserve and 2.5 tons of trash from Ballona Creek!


Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization? A. The Friends were founded 41 years ago to save the Ballona Wetlands from development and that was accomplished. Today, we continue in those footsteps to preserve and restore this important land, and involve the community in doing so. The Ballona Wetlands is more than a regional ecological resource, its impact reaches far beyond Playa del Rey.

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve provides students, families and the community a unique hands-on learning experience to understand the important role wetlands play in the Los Angeles watershed.
The wetlands are a source of community involvement in education and restoration, a part of our cultural history and a great way to meet people. Each year, more than 9,000 people visit and volunteer with The Friends, including 5,000 students who participate in our “Explore Ballona!” education program.

Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. I have three. For public schools throughout the Los Angeles area that cannot afford to transport their students to the wetlands for our on-site educational activities, we provide 25 bus scholarships. Environmental justice does not have a zip code!
The Friends brought the federally endangered El Segundo Blue Butterfly back to the Ballona Wetlands. So many people mispronounce Ballona. It’s By-own-uh (accent on the first syllable), not buh-loan-uh.

Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. Check out our website ballonafriends.org. We have opportunities for anyone to volunteer, intern, train to be a docent or just come for a tour and birdwatch with one of our experts. Corporate groups including Google, Ernst & Young, Paramount Pictures, United Talent Agency, The Honest Company and others volunteer regularly with The Friends. All the opportunities are listed on the “Get Involved” and “Calendar” tabs.


Airport Marina Counseling Service

AMCS’ Spring into Well-Being Celebration.
Photo by @VenicePaparazzi.

For more than 50 years, the Airport Marina Counseling Service, or AMCS, has provided hope and help to people dealing with stress, trauma, grief, life transitions and other mental health issues. For the last six years, the organization has been led by Eden Garcia-Balis and has grown to offer more services including expanded group classes and the launch of a LGBT Center. This month, AMCS is offering group therapy classes that cover topics like holiday stress, anxiety and navigating your 20s.

Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization? A. The mission of AMCS is twofold: to provide affordable community-based mental health services and to train mental health therapists. All of our programming is in line with our mission, and we are so glad to be serving the community since 1961.

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. Being mentally healthy is just as important as being physically healthy. There are many people who want to access mental health services, but are not receiving mental health care because it has become so costly. AMCS positively impacts the Westchester/Playa area by providing low-cost mental health services to anyone in need throughout the community. All of our services are based on a sliding fee scale. We are open seven days a week and can accommodate virtually anybody’s schedule.

Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. I really wish everybody knew about our At Risk Kids Program where we have been providing comprehensive mental health counseling to children and their families since 2003.

This program includes individual and group counseling, parent education groups and psychiatric services, if appropriate, at the clinic and currently on site at Paseo del Rey Elementary School, Wright STEAM Middle School and Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Venice.


The youth we typically serve have specific challenges such as learning disabilities and behavioral issues. They often live in chronic poverty with negative peer influences and no positive role models. They are typically struggling in both their school and family setting. Through the At Risk Kids Program, AMCS aims to change the trajectory of the lives of youth to more positive outcomes, including remaining in school and developing positive relationships, while addressing the trauma and key issues in their lives.
And AMCS provides these important services for free! AMCS’ Spring into Well-Being Celebration fundraiser helps raise funds so we can continue to provide these services free of charge and even grow the program.

Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. AMCS’ sister organization the Westchester Mental Health Guild’s sole mission is to raise funds for AMCS. They are an all-volunteer organization and are always looking for people to help with their fundraising events. The events are more fun than work. For more info about the Guild’s fundraising events or how you can volunteer, please visit their website at
westchestermhg.org. You can visit us online at amcshelps.com.


Westchester Rotary Club

Rotarians participate in the Jet to Jetty in Playa del Rey.

The Rotary Club of Westchester has been supporting the community for more than 50 years. Currently led by president Darlene Fukuji, the group continues its service to Westchester and beyond with a variety of programs like the Extreme Makeover Project that revamped the Westchester Townhouse earlier this year, its annual book sale and Citizen of the Year award. More than just a weekly lunch meeting group, the Westchester Rotary Club offers opportunities each month for members to give back, whether they’re painting fences at St. Bernard, hosting back to school shopping trips for Westport Heights students or organizing scholarship competitions.


Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization?
A.
We are committed to building strong and healthy communities, both locally and internationally. Our goal is to ensure that community needs are being met, and the strength of Rotary is that we have diverse backgrounds that bring various resources–time, talent, and treasure–together. This can only be done with a high degree of trust in each other, which takes time and friendship, and happens through gathering weekly and breaking bread with one another.

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. We have more than 40 projects and programs each year that benefit our community ranging from “boots on the ground” projects like our beautification projects at our local schools and programs where we partner with the District Attorney’s office and our first responders to honor our courageous citizens. We have four avenues of services: international, community, vocational and youth. One area that I’m most excited about is our initiative to end human trafficking by providing a network of resources for victims. You can learn more about this initiative at rotariansfightinghumantrafficking.org.


Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. We believe that everyone has something to offer, and we strive to help people develop their talents and use their abilities to build strong and healthy communities. In fact, we have an active group of young professionals that benefit from the mentorship of seasoned Rotarians, and it has resulted in a culture of collaboration. Take, for example, for the past two years, our club’s presidents have been young professional women.


Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. -Donate books! Donate your gently used books for our annual sale during Memorial Day weekend that takes place in the parking lot of Ralphs and CVS on Sepulveda and Howard Drollinger Way. We have book collections at the Westchester YMCA, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Airport Marina Counseling and other community establishments that also help to promote literacy in our community year after year.
-Extreme Makeover projects! Every other year, we identify a community need and help in the form of a makeover project where hundreds of volunteers come together for a family or a community center. Past projects can be found in previous editions of the Hometown News.
-Donate to our foundation! Our foundation funds teacher grants, student scholarships, back to school shopping sprees for disadvantaged youth, meals for our first responders, meals for seniors at the Westchester Senior Center, youth exchange programs, services for homeless teens and helps launch new programs to meet more community needs.
Learn more about our club at rotary-westchester.com.


YMCA staff members pose in the gym.

Westchester Family YMCA

The Westchester Family YMCA has been a community hub since it was founded, and under the leadership of John Loussararian, the organization is thriving. A lifelong supporter of the YMCA organization–he learned to swim at his local Y before volunteering as a junior lifeguard and started his career with the Y at the age of 18– Loussararian knows the YMCA is more than just a gym. The Y’s members find a network of support in the friendships they make because of their involvement with Adventure Guides, exercise classes and camping. Always looking for ways to support health and wellness, the Westchester Family YMCA partners with 14 local schools for youth yoga and P.E. classes.


Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization?
A.
The Y’s focus is to strengthen the foundations of community through helping our youth find their full potential, improving the health and well-being of our communities and encouraging our neighbors to give back.
All Y programs represent a vehicle to solve a critical community crisis, such as teaching our youth the life saving skill of swimming and thereby preventing drownings, which is the leading cause of death in children under 4, according to the CDC. One thousand youth each year participate in our swim lesson program.

Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. More than 4,000 households benefit from their participation in Y programs through their membership and an additional 4,000 youth are healthier as a result of our school-based health initiatives. One thousand children build their self-confidence and learn the value of teamwork and sportsmanship through our youth sports and recreation programs and 200 youth realize their spark through enrichment programs such as STEM classes. Adults and seniors feel less of a sense of loneliness as a result of the lifelong friendships they form through a variety classes and programs.

Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. The YMCA is a charitable non-profit organization that carries out our mission through the various programs we facilitate. If not for the generosity of our donors and volunteers, many of our outreach initiatives would not be possible.
Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. Volunteering, donating or serving on the Board of Managers are great opportunities for people in our community to get involved in a meaningful and fulfilling way. Learn more at ymcala.org/westchester.


Emerson Avenue Community Garden

Families enjoy the Emerson Avenue Community Garden at WAM.
Photo by Glenn Marzano.

Located on the campus of Wright STEAM Magnet and WISH, Emerson Avenue Community Garden (EACG) opened in 2011, and since then has blossomed into a community green space with garden plots, events and an outdoor classroom thanks to the hard work of volunteers. The organization’s president, Dorothy Stone, has been with EACG since the beginning, and is excited for people to learn more about the garden’s educational opportunities, including how to grow fruits and veggies. The EACG is also an integral part of the Westchester Arts & Music Block Party (and the location for the event’s kid zone), which raises funds for the community garden.

Q. In your own words, what is the mission/goal of your organization?
A.
In my mind, our mission is to provide a space for sustainable gardening for personal use, community education on best practices for gardening and to provide a space for the community to come together to build a stronger bond among neighbors.


Q. How does your nonprofit positively impact the Westchester/Playa area? A. We welcome involvement from all who live in or work in the greater Westchester/Playa area to meet our goals. As a community space, we can provide people with a place to go to enjoy nature and see the day-to-day process of growing food.


Q. What is something that most people might not know about your organization that you wish they did? A. We welcome visitors to the garden whenever someone is there, after school during the week, or on the weekends.


Q. What are some opportunities for people to get involved with your organization? A. We have several ways people can get involved. We have a community workday on the first Saturday of the month, from 9 a.m. to noon where volunteers can help with the myriad of projects required to keep a garden going. We have many committees which also welcome help from the community, including event planning, fund raising, hospitality, garden projects and the like. If you’re interested in getting involved, please email us at
eacgc@yahoo.com.

Posted November 2019.