Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach announces in-house staff promotions of invaluable team members

The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach (BGCLB) has announced the promotions of Oscar Parra, Danny Panduro, Moana Contreras, and Sophia Abjuga. After working diligently at their previous positions, these BGCLB professionals agreed to take on a new challenges. In addition to their experience and education, their dedication and desire to always provide the best services for the BGCLB youth, met the qualifications set by the executive leadership team. 

Formerly the Bluebird Branch Director, Oscar Parra will now oversee both Bluebird and Lang Branches. To ensure daily operations are meeting organizational expectations, he has the assistance of Moana Contreras and Sophia Abjuga, newly appointed coordinators for each branch.

Oscar states, “I am happy to continue my role as a Branch Director and extending it to our Lang families. I have been a passionate leader in the Boys & Girls Club movement for the past 16 years. I bring extensive youth development experience to our organization, having worked at Boys & Girls Clubs of Fullerton, Brea/Placentia/Yorba Linda, Las Vegas, and now Laguna Beach.

“I had the pleasure of learning and leading in a variety of professional roles within my current location, including Youth Development Professional, Athletic Director, Program Director, and Clubhouse Director. I have been leading Bluebird Park for over three years and I look forward in serving the Laguna Beach community, keeping our children safe and watching them grow and excel in their daily lives.”

Danny Panduro, formerly the Lang Park Extension Director, will now direct the Teen Program Services Programs based out of the Canyon Branch. Danny shares, “I am ecstatic to be the new Teen Services Director for the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna

Beach. I have been a part of the Boys & Girls Club movement since elementary school when I attended Canyon Branch as a Club member. In a professional capacity, I have been with the Club in various roles since 2009. 

“I began as a volunteer in April 2009 and was quickly hired on as summer staff for four summers at Canyon Branch. After finishing college at the University of Redlands, I returned to the Club and spent two years at Bluebird Branch where I served as Athletic Director. In May of 2015, I became the Director at our Lang Park Extension and have remained in that role until now. I am excited for this new opportunity and to return to the Branch where I began my career. Over the years, I have built many relationships at all three locations, and look forward to building new ones and continuing to foster the old.”

He adds, “To the Lang Park families: I will forever cherish the memories we have made together throughout the past two and a half years. Thank you for choosing Lang Park as your after-school destination and I can’t wait to see your members in our Teen Center. This year is going to be an incredible year for our organization and I am thrilled to continue serving the community that I grew up in and love.”

Previously the Bluebird Branch Education Coordinator, Moana Contreras, will now serve as the Bluebird Branch Coordinator. Moana says, “I have been with the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach for over three years. When I was hired as a youth Development Professional I brought extensive customer service and professional competencies that helped me achieve a promotion as the Education Coordinator. I have a deep passion to help kids achieve their academic goals and social skills. I am excited to accept this new role and look forward to the new relationships I will build on behalf of our organization.”

Sophia Abjuga, a Lang Park Extension Youth Development Professional, will now be the Lang Unit Coordinator. Sophia says, “I was hired in June of 2016 as a Youth Development Professional. My experience in child care and customer service along with volunteering in my community makes this opportunity my ‘perfect job,’ which I plan on making as my career choice. I love every minute of it! I started in the summer doing all that was asked of me from programing, supervision, club décor, housekeeping and outdoor activities. 

“When the school year started, I was able to direct the art programs for our Lang members. Due to the children’s interest and my love for the arts, I hope to introduce a theater arts programs sometime this year with the assistance of our organization’s Art Director. I am so happy for this advancement opportunity and sharing my positivity and talents with our incredible children and families.”

For questions or additional support, reach out to the newly promoted Club staff individually at their location. For additional comment regarding these staff changes, call Chief Operations Officer of Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach, Addie McHale at 949-715-7669.

For further information about the Boys & Girls Club, go to www.bgclagunabeach.org or call (949) 494-2535.


El Morro Elementary Peer Assistance and Leadership gives back to local residents 

El Morro Elementary Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) students had an amazing opportunity to give back to local residents recently. During the monthly Character Counts Funday Monday lunch time activity, students in grades 1st-5th assembled “Blessing bags” that contained a few basic essentials (i.e. toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, comb, granola bar, wet wipes, and a handmade uplifting note of encouragement) for the Friendship Shelter.

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PAL students assembled “Blessing Bags” to give out to local residents at the Friendship Shelter

All felt fortunate to be surrounded by ocean views while the PAL students were able to pass out hot chocolate, holiday cookies, and “Blessing Bags” to residents at the Friendship Shelter on Pacific Coast Highway. 

This life-altering volunteer experience has not only positively impacted the warm-hearted youth filling them with empathy for others, but has helped spread holiday cheer to those in need during the holiday season.


Bah, Humbug! LBHS presents a reading of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge on Wed, Dec 20

For a hilarious and irreverent look at A Christmas Carol, Laguna Beach High School’s Drama/Theatre II offers a twisted version of this tradition favorite on Wed, Dec 20, at 3 p.m. The reading of Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge, by Christopher Durang, will take place in the Greene Room (LBHS Room 55), and the suggested donation is $5.

Mrs. Bob Crachit’s Wild Christmas Binge was commissioned by City Theatre in Pittsburgh and premiered on Nov 7, 2002. It is a musical parody in which Durang asks the question, “What if Dickens’ Mrs. Cratchit wasn’t so goody-goody, but instead was an angry, stressed-out modern-day American woman who wanted out of the harsh London 1840s life?” 

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Jeff Howell and Kristine Nielsen in the original production in 2002

Scrooge’s tale of redemption and transformation is turned completely on its head, although most of the characters retain their original Dickensian qualities. Durang adds many classic allusions and pop-culture references to the story to make it a rollicking time for all in attendance.

The Christmas Binge reading is recommended for high school age and above due to its complete and total (uproarious) mockery, as well as some adult language.

LBHS thanks the community for supporting their programs throughout the year.

LBHS is located at 625 Park Ave.

For more information, go to www.lbusd.org.


Dianne’s Creature Feature (because, cows)

Cowabunga, TOW tops “Change for Change” goal

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

What do cows, greenhouses, and coins all have in common? Top of the World Elementary. 

Just at a time when there is the widespread notion that small things can’t make a difference, students at TOW Elementary proved that concept wrong. In a big way. Small things, spare change in this case, turn into big things (dollars to be exact) that can make significant differences.

To this end, TOW Elementary PTA created a spare change collection campaign for Giving Tuesday. They encouraged students to bring any amount of surplus change to raise $500 (with a $500 match from the TOW PTA) to support With My Own Two Hands Foundation (WMO2H), a Laguna Beach nonprofit that provides water and agricultural projects to fund education and create self-reliant projects and communities.

WmO2H chosen for focus on children, education and sustainability

 “The TOW PTA chose With My Own 2 Hands for our Giving Tuesday fundraiser because of its focus on children, education and sustainable projects. This clearly resonated with the students, which was one of our goals. We wanted to help provide better nutrition for the children in Kenya while also showing students how powerful they can be when they work together for a cause they care about. We love that this foundation’s philosophy is to empower individuals to make a difference, even in a country that they might never have visited,” says Jennifer Grzeskowiak, the community service chair for TOW PTA.

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Grayson Grzeskowiak helps count some last-minute coins 

 The funds were earmarked for purchase of two dairy cows that would each provide 45 Kenyan kids with fresh milk every day. And to make the campaign even more exciting, the classrooms competed against each other to see who could raise the most money for the honor of naming the cows. 

 And to say that the students accomplished their objective “in a big way,” is no exaggeration. The TOW “Change for Change” campaign exceeded their goal of $500 and raised a whopping $2,199. Further, the TOW PTA was so inspired by the children’s generosity, they doubled their contribution to a generous $1,000 match - for a total of $3,199.

“Every class participated in the fundraiser. This is a busy time of year for parents, teachers and students, so I was blown away that every class brought in money. Also, some students brought in bills, but more than 60 percent ($1,343) was in coins,” says Grzeskowiak. “The top class brought in $230.92. The top three are going to get to name one of the cows.” 

What will the kids name the three cows they’ve sponsored?

Max Osborne, from the class that ranked number three (in raising money), says, «Everyone was super excited about the cows. Everyone was racing to fill up the jar because they really wanted to help and really wanted to name a cow.» 

Three of the names his class is considering for the cow are Albert, Milky and Ginger. The classes will announce the names they chose at an assembly in December.

Because TOW smashed their goal, the funds will now purchase three cows 

anda sister greenhouse that will provide 400-500 children and adults fresh vegetables. In addition, the surplus of 250 pounds of crops will be sold, generating income that will fund education. 

“TOW has its own garden program that the students love,” Grzeskowiak explains, “so we’re happy to be able to provide a garden at another school in Kenya and further improve their nutrition.”

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Kids and moms holding signs at drop-off the morning of Giving Tuesday

 There’s no doubt that the students truly took the giving to heart.  “There are so many great and inspiring stories and every penny donated by the students has positively impacted the kids who inspire all of us at WMO2H every day! There is a sweet story of fitth grader Josh Novick who donated all $100 of his birthday money,” says Mary Beth Pugh, Director of Operations at WMO2H. “We had our founder Lindsey Pluimer give him a personal call to thank him as well.”

Fifth grader gives every cent of his birthday money to the cause

Josh said of his donation, “I wanted to give my birthday money to someone who needs it rather than spend it on something I want. It just felt like the right thing to do.”

Evidently, the “Change for Change” campaign, which was a huge success, is just the beginning of the fundraising experience for these students. “This is going to be a great kick-off for TOW PTA’s Dive Into Giving student-led grant program. We are encouraging classes to raise money for a cause of their choice that we will partially match. 

“Students present their ideas to the TOW PTA for a chance at grant matching funding. We want to plant the seeds of giving now and know these kids will become some of the world’s next change-makers,” Grzeskowiak added. “We’ll match $200-$500 of the money they raise. We want students to take ownership of the giving process and see what they can accomplish when they work together.” 

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At student assembly, (l-r) Ava Guziak, Jack Pugh, and Reid Guziak talk about their experiences with WMO2H projects in Kenya

 Pluimer said of her organization, “With My Own Two Hands seeks to inspire our communities to help improve the lives of children in need. This fundraiser is an incredible way to show the kids in our beautiful Laguna Beach community that everyone can make a difference. The children’s generosity will now provide better nutrition and a diversified diet for hundreds.” 

With My Own Two Hands Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of orphaned or disadvantaged children in need. Their model creates self-reliance by setting up water and agricultural business-like ventures in Kenya where surplus is sold to the local community. A minimum of 40 percent of proceeds goes toward funding education.

Grzeskowiak says, “The feedback I’ve gotten from kids and parents was that the concept of helping other kids by providing them with cows for milk and bringing in spare change was all very tangible for them. We wanted to make fundraising engaging for them.” 

And apparently, it was. It’s no cow-incidence that when you put a goal in the hands of TOW students, they set their minds and money to it, work together, and the result changes lives. 

Congratulations, TOW Elementary! 

I can’t wait to find out the names of the cows.

For further information on WMO2H, go to www.withmyown2hands.org

When a cow laughs, does milk come out its nose?

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