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Laguna Logo 2022

Ruby Samson launches fundraising initiative SEA Your Future in hopes of changing lives 

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Fifteen-year-old Ruby Samson, a sophomore at Laguna Beach High School, is understandably busy with studies, surfing and working. That’s one of the reasons she cherishes her time alone on the water and those encounters sparked the name of her fundraising initiative SEA Your Future. Its goal is to provide the experience of surfing and the ocean to kids who don’t have the means or opportunity, and in the process, change lives.

Ruby Samson closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ruby Samson 

The name SEA Your Future holds layers of meaning for Samson. “It took a long time to come up with the name,” she said. “The ocean is a place to clear my head. When I’m in the water, I think about my life and future.”

The vision of SEA Your Future is to provide funding for transformative surf and ocean experiences. As explained on its website, “It will focus on less fortunate teens who cannot easily reach the ocean. They will learn to surf and experience the incredible power of the sea. SEA Your Future’s mission is to make this opportunity available to as many teens as possible. As they embrace the gifts of the ocean and surfing, this experience will inspire and change futures in a positive way!”

ruby samson kids in water

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Courtesy of Endless Summer Surf Camp

Ruby on far left at Endless Summer Surf Camp

Samson set up in “Do Good Village” at the Coast Film & Music Festival on November 12-13, with volunteers walking around all weekend to tell people about SEA Your Future. “We got a lot of donations at the film festival,” she said. “A few friends helped pass out flyers. The goal was to let residents know about it and a lot of locals came to the festival on Sunday night.”

Inspiration

Samson came up with the idea for SEA Your Future while attending Endless summer Surf Camp over the past few summers. “I’d been thinking that there are so many kids who’ve never been to the beach or had the opportunity to surf,” Samson said. “We are blessed because we live so close to the ocean. I wanted to start a fundraiser in which kids can learn to surf and love the ocean and have a good experience.”

Samson also worked as a counselor at Sli Dawg Surf Camp during the past two summers. Sli Dawg Surf Camp is also known as the premiere Laguna Beach Surf School, which has been operating since 2001 and is affiliated with Laguna Surf and Sport.

 “I’d been thinking that there are so many kids who’ve never been to the beach or had the opportunity to surf,” Samson said. “We are blessed because we live so close to the ocean. I wanted to start a fundraiser in which kids can learn to surf and love the ocean and have a good experience.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Carla and Jeff Meberg: A couple committed to the community in more ways than one

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The many roles that Carla and Jeff Meberg play in the Laguna community all involve a generosity of spirit, time and talent – and a significant amount of emotional connection. For their dedication to nonprofit work, they were the recipients of the 2022 Individual Arts Patron Award given by the Arts Alliance. 

The Mebergs take their community endeavors very seriously, but they also have a fun side that shines through with glaring clarity – their charisma is contagious, and it’s easy to see why they are sought after to serve. 

carla and aqua jacket

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Jeff and Carla Meberg

Carla introduced Jeff to the nonprofit world, and he seems to have embraced it as wholeheartedly as she has. He is on the board of both Pacific Marine Mammal Center and Glennwood Housing Foundation.

Born in Houston, Texas, Carla started out as an account executive for Cummings and Hester Advertising Agency, but quickly discovered her heart was in nonprofits when she became the executive director for Hear-Say, Inc, United Way Agency – also in Houston. She also served as the director of communications for Insight for Living, an international radio program and started her own business as a design consultant for book publishing and event planning.

“I knew I didn’t belong in Texas,” Carla said. “I love California, and I came here when I was 19. I went to California State, Fullerton and got a BA in communications with an emphasis in public relations.”

The Mebergs met when Carla’s best friend, who grew up knowing Jeff’s family, told Carla, “I’m going to set you up with someone.” 

“When we were first married, we lived in Belmont Shores, then moved to San Clemente. Jeff’s job territory was from Los Angeles to San Diego, so we looked at the map and picked something in-between,” Carla said. 

In 2007, she became a volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), for children in the care of the county.

Commitments

Carla has served on the LOCA Arts Education board for 10 years and has been president for eight years. “Our main accomplishments include building an incredible board of directors, growing our outreach by 50% and doubling our income,” she said. 

carla and faith

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(L-R) Carla with Glennwood House CEO Faith Manners and Glennwood Associate Director Rachel Landers at the Glennwood Gala on October 29

For the past three years, she has served on the board of the Laguna Beach Art Museum. 

First nonprofit

Although she studied art in college, Carla changed her major to communications when her creativity wasn’t encouraged by her instructors. However, in 2002, she began again to pursue art, which led to her first venture into Laguna into the arts and nonprofits.

“I went to Saddleback and studied printmaking,” Carla said. “The Festival of Arts hired me to work with a printmaker and in mixed media, and I met one of the ladies, Mada Leach, who was then president of LOCA. She said, ‘You need to be in LOCA.’ I have served as president for eight years. Then three years ago, I was asked to be on the board of LAM. I love that board. I feel like these are two of the best nonprofit boards. We all get along whether we’re losing or winning and are able to be gracious to each other. I like having all the points of view – we have a lot of different personalities. For example, at LAM, when we were hiring Julie Perrin-Lee. It was a wonderful experience, so fun to brainstorm and I think we made a fantastic decision.” 

carla and loca birthday bash

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Cakewalk at LOCA’s birthday bash 

“You need opposing views; you have to have both. Everyone offers something, and it doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both,” she continued. “We find a way to integrate everyone’s opinions.”

In addition to her role as FOA Art Educator in printmaking and mixed media, Carla also teaches bookmaking and printmaking for the senior art escapes program at Susi Q and teaching at the Youth Shelter. Currently, she teaches art classes every Thursday for the residents of Glennwood House, which is clearly a bright spot for both Mebergs. 

Carla is devoted to the class, which usually involves 25-30 participants and Jeff is very emotional about the residents.

“Their artwork is great,” Carla said. “They don’t copy anything, they make their own art. Because they see things differently, it’s not going to be like anything else. Some residents are very verbal and trusting, others are non-verbal and hang back and watch. It’s not a crafting class, they learn skills and are very proud. We had a show at Susi Q and at Wells Fargo Bank. Their friends and families come and it’s a great opportunity for them to show their work.” 

“Faith at Glennwood House has done an incredible job. She loves it and the staff loves what they’re doing,” said Carla. “You are in another realm when you enter that world and you walk away with so much joy. Before coming to Glennwood, many of them had only their parents’ friends as their friends, but at Glennwood, they get to pick their friends and live and learn. They call it home. When they are away, some residents say they want to go back home, meaning Glennwood.” 

carla and glennwood gala

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(L-R) Marrie Stone, Jeff Rovner, Jeff and Carla Meberg at the Glennwood House Gala on October 29 at FOA

Surprised to know

Even though the Mebergs are well known in the community, there might be a few things that come as a surprise.

Carla was a U.S. Representative for the Rotary Club in a “Women in Business Exchange” with India in the area of communications and visited India in January and February 1990.

“We lived in peoples’ homes during that time. I contracted tuberculosis,” Carla said. “The doctors didn’t diagnose it for a year, and eventually I went to UCLA.” 

She was one of the first patients in Orange County to have it. 

Jeff said, “TB drains energy and she was fighting it for 10 to 15 years.”

“The first year I spent in bed,” she said. “I became a ‘partner’ in Jeff’s job. We are opposites when it comes to managing things. I’m very detailed oriented and balance a checkbook down to the penny. I would lay in bed and organize (and run the financial things) or make books or collages or paint. In the middle of the night, Jeff would sometimes roll over on a pair of scissors or some other art tool.”

Another surprise 

With such a busy schedule with PMMC and Glennwood House, having a full-time job seems almost impossible. Although not ready to retire, Jeff is in transition from working to retiring as president of Nursery Products. They have the largest composting site in California.

His love of life and sense of humor can be traced back to his father. “My dad, who was a superintendent of schools for 32 years, got pancreatic cancer at 52. At the time, my mom dyed her hair, and he said, ‘when I die, quit dying your hair. People will think that the trauma of my death was so great that it turned your hair gray.’ She did stop dying it. What was great about my dad was that as he was dying, he said, ‘let’s turn this into something good.’ He got to meet Carla. He loved her. That has helped our relationship so much – she got to see how my family functioned and used comedy as a way to make things okay.”

carla and looking at each other

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Jeff with some of his longtime friends from Glennwood House

Jeff inherited something else from his family as well – his cooking skills. His Norwegian grandmother was a baker in Seattle, Wash.

A zest for life

“Jeff is a great chef, and he learned from her,” Carla said.

That talent led him to be a sous chef for James Boyce at the Studio at the Montage for several months, but not in the way one might imagine.

“Jeff hosted a party for his largest client, the Gas Company, at the Studio,” Carla said. “They had just opened, and we were some of the first people to dine at the Studio at that time. The party was out of this world. The Studio said, ‘we’ll give you anything to get you to come back.’” 

“So at the end of the party, I said I’d like to be a chef for the day,” Jeff said. 

According to Jeff, when he showed up, the response wasn’t what he expected. Chef Boyce said, ‘**** that, I don’t do chef for a day.’”

“But I said, ‘I’m doing this,’ and I started showing up every Sunday after that – for eight months. Then there was a game he wanted to bet on, and I gave him the name of a bookie, and he let me be chef for a day. But it was like they were hazing me; they did so much stuff to me.”

Then it turned from bad to worse.

“We were at a fundraiser at the Four Seasons in San Diego with all the top chefs,” Jeff said. “I was down there with the sous chef, and we had a little food station representing the Montage, and I was wearing a chef outfit. They wanted chefs to donate things for the fundraiser, so I got up on stage and promised all kinds of stuff. When I got back, Boyce was really mad. I was devastated when I got home, but Carla was laughing. Then the next day, the fundraiser organizers contacted the Montage to thank them for sending their fun chef.”

Carla added, “Montage was so happy that they comped us rooms and looked out for us after that.”

carla and looking at each other

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A lifetime of Samoyed dogs and convertibles

Spare time, what spare time?

In what little time the Mebergs have away from their nonprofits, they are renovating their home of seven years, and Carla works in her art studio in San Clemente. They spend time with their three Samoyed dogs – Owen, Ivan and Sophie – and their three cats – Max, a Bengal, Ragdoll Stewie and a Turkish Van named Ollie, who came from a rescue in Oklahoma.

“When we got married I told Jeff, I will always have Samoyed dogs and a convertible,” Carla said.

And he kept his promise to her – she’s always had Samoyed dogs and a convertible.

Then Jeff said something that all wives would love to hear, “Carla is naturally beautiful. She doesn’t wear her looks on her sleeve. You assume when someone is so pretty, that they are arrogant. She’s the opposite – so sweet and gorgeous, and so willing to help.”

Carla tried to counter his compliment, “When I was young, I was really skinny, and there were no hair products and my curly hair stuck out everywhere. That’s the self-image that stuck with me.” One of them mentioned Olive Oil from Popeye.

“Her character is phenomenal,” said Jeff. “I’m so proud that she’s my wife.” 

When you love what you do, it brings joy and it shows – and that’s evident in both of the Mebergs.


Laguna Logo 2022

Amy and Julian Mack: On a mission to change the lives of senior and special dogs

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Never underestimate the power of being seen,” some wise person once said. That is precisely the truism Amy and Julian Mack had in mind when they came up with the idea for Unconditional. A Laguna Beach-based nonprofit co-founded by the Macks, Unconditional is on track to build an 8,000-square-foot rescue and adoption center for senior and special needs dogs. They hope to break ground on their Laguna Canyon Road site by the end of the year, and it’s due to open in late 2023. 

“A friend came up with the name Unconditional,” Amy said. “It says everything and also has an element of curiosity.”

Unconditional seems the perfect name for their nonprofit. Everything about their mission reflects absolute, unqualified love – for the owners and the dogs. Contrary to the dogs being a source of sadness, as one might expect, they bring joy into the lives of their owners and vice-versa.

amy and Mack closeup

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Julian and Amy Mack, co-founders of Unconditional

According to Amy, there are only a few severely underfunded rescues across the whole country that focus on senior or special needs dogs and even fewer with a physical presence. 

Since they are rarely included in adoption events, senior and disabled dogs are virtually invisible to potential adopters and most often are euthanized in shelters. Through various shelters with whom they have built relationships, the Macks hear of special needs and senior dogs that need to be adopted. Unconditional will give the public an opportunity to see and interact with them.

The power of being seen

“Of the 14,000 shelters and rescue groups in the U.S., only 40 are dedicated to helping senior and special needs dogs and many of them are incredibly under-resourced. We are dedicated to finding loving homes for these animals, and believe me, the experience is very rewarding,” said Amy. 

There’s no doubt that the Macks know what they’re talking about. They now have four special dogs – Levi, who they’ve had for one year; Oona, who joined them six months ago; 14-year-old StanLee (the former owner had a comic book store, thus the name), who they’ve had almost seven years; and Asher, who is 13 years old and is from Pug Nation Rescue. They rescued Asher, who came from an abusive home, in March.

Oona surely had a guardian angel, because before coming to the Macks, she was saved twice from being euthanized.

“Oona was captured in Oklahoma and was to be euthanized, even had the needle already inserted but was saved by a tech. Within 24 hours she was going to be euthanized again and that’s when a friend reached out to us,” Julian said.

amy and julian and dogs

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Julian holding Asher and Amy with StanLee, (Front row, L-R) Oona and Levi 

With Executive Director Peter Chang at the helm, the goal of Unconditional is to ensure that all senior and special dogs, not just those in their direct care, find loving homes.

Chang comes to Unconditional with extensive nonprofit expertise. Before joining Unconditional, he was the executive director of Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) and prior to joining PMMC, he was the founding executive director of the Child Creativity Lab, a nonprofit now in their 10th year.

Chang got to know Amy and Julian when he was at PMMC and asked if he could use the parking spaces on their property. 

Unconditional’s mission is one that is close to Chang’s heart. He, his wife Nicole and their two sons, also are dog lovers – they have a Bernedoodle named Koda. 

amy and Peter and Amy closeup

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 Unconditional Executive Director Peter Chang with Amy

A place to increase visibility

The future site of Unconditional is on the property previously housing Coastal Kennels. 

“We heard about the property from Dr. Levin. It wasn’t even on the market yet,” Amy said. “The owner wanted the new venture on the property to be animal related. It’s perfect…it’s in the heart of Laguna, so people can easily drop by for coffee and interact with the dogs.” 

Working with Architect Todd Skenderian, the building design will incorporate a ground floor parking structure since the property is in the flood area. It will have a play area for dogs and stairs will be limited. Additionally, it will have a space other shelters can use to increase visibility of their dogs as well.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Bella Rasmussen makes history by believing if you set your mind to it, anything is possible

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

If you’ve been anywhere near a newspaper, radio, television or the internet in the last week and a half, you know the name Bella Rasmussen. On Friday, Oct. 14, she made history by achieving the first multiple-touchdown performance by a girl in California. A senior running back on the Laguna Beach High School (LBHS) Breakers varsity football team, Bella accomplished this feat during the second quarter of a 48-0 victory against Godinez at Santa Ana Valley High School.

“It’s always been one of my dreams,” said Bella, who had touchdown runs of one and four yards. According to www.CalHiSports.com, she’s the eighth girl in state history to score a touchdown on varsity. 

Because of all the attention it’s getting, “I’m very happy and excited. I hope it will be an inspiration to other girls.”

LL&P Bella Rasmussen closeup

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Bella Rasmussen

A senior at Laguna Beach High School (LBHS), 17-year-old Bella has wanted to score a varsity touchdown since she was a child and hasn’t taken that goal lightly. 

“When I was 6 years old, I watched my cousin and older brother play and thought ‘I want to do that,’” Bella said.

There’s no doubt, she’s a very determined girl who knows her own mind.

She played youth football for four years in Irvine and has been a part of the LBHS team for four years as a running back and defensive end. For those eight years, she’s been the only girl on her teams.

“When I said I wanted to play, my parents were worried and asked, ‘Are you sure you want to play tackle football?’” Bella admitted, but once they realized how determined she was, they were behind her 100 percent.

LL&P Bella Rasmussen family

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(L-R) Bella, her dad Ben and her mother Annette 

Annette and Ben Rasmussen have raised two children who know no limits. Bella grew up believing anything was possible and to shoot for the stars. 

“My parents raised me with no boundaries,” said Bella. “They said do whatever you want to and learn to overcome the challenges that go with it.”

Her older brother Seth took their parents’ advice to heart and is literally shooting for the stars – he’s studying astrophysics at the University of Boulder in Colorado and wants to go into space.

“He wants to be an astronaut,” Annette said. “After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, he’ll get a master’s degree and then a Ph.D. Japan has the leading astrophysicist program, and to up his chances of getting into their program, Seth taught himself Japanese over the summer.”

Bella clearly admires her brother and his achievements – “He’s really smart, he’s kind of a genius.”

LL&P Bella Rasmussen walking away

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Loving Laguna

Coming to Laguna

It’s no surprise that the Rasmussen family landed in Laguna because of football, but it was for Seth’s football career, not Bella’s. At the time, she was going into eighth grade. 

“We’d been living in Irvine for 10 years, but I’ve been coming to Laguna since I was a teenager, and later on, I brought the kids here,” Annette said. “It’s been my dream to live here. My sister and brother-in-law Nate Ball, who is the wide receivers coach at LBHS, moved here and said it would be good place for my son to play football.” 

“I went to every one of Seth’s varsity games,” Bella said. “I was so excited. It was the coolest.” 

The challenges of football

As one might expect, Bella admits that in the past, playing football as the only female on the team hasn’t been without its challenges. 

“I’m not the only girl on varsity in the history of LBHS, there was one on the team in the 1990s,” she said. “I’ve never been treated differently by my coaches or teammates at LBHS. They’ve been extremely supportive and were so happy when I made the touchdowns.”

However, that hasn’t always been the case. “In youth football, overall there were definitely a few coaches who couldn’t come out and say anything, but by 

their treatment, I knew they weren’t pleased I was there.”

LL&P Bella Rasmussen football

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For eight years, Bella has been the only girl on her football teams

Her journey also hasn’t been without its share of injuries. “When I was a sophomore (coming back after a COVID) I broke two fingers on my right hand,” said Bella. “I didn’t tell anyone, not even my mom. It turned out that when I finally went to the doctor, two joints had separated.” 

She has also suffered bone contusions in her left wrist and does acknowledge that on more than a few occasions, she’s had the wind knocked out of her.

“When I get hit, I just try to shake it off,” she said. “I think I have a high pain threshold.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Leif Hanson: Childhood memories fuel his passion for two local nonprofits

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Leif Hanson’s two passions – Laguna Coast Volleyball Club (LCVC) and Night at the Ranch, which benefits the Boys & Girls Club – can be traced back to his upbringing. Born and raised in Laguna, Hanson, the founder and president of LCVC, spent much of his childhood playing volleyball.

“I started playing at the age of 8,” Hanson said. “I played on the blacktop courts of El Morro Elementary, at beaches throughout Laguna and then a few years later in Laguna Beach’s first volleyball club.” The Laguna Beach Volleyball Club started him on a trajectory that led to a 14-year professional career. 

During Hanson’s time at Laguna Beach High School – he graduated in 1983 – he won three CIF titles and was named 1983 CIF Player of the Year, which earned him a scholarship to play volleyball at the University of Hawaii. After graduation, he became a top pro beach volleyball player on the AVP Tour where he won both AVP and FIVB events around the world. 

At the present time, Hanson is a real estate agent – with two decades of experience – and has been with Berkshire Hathaway in Laguna for six years.

leif hanson volleyball net

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Leif Hanson, founder and president of LCVC

Prior to the founding of the nonprofit LCVC in February 2020, Laguna had been without a volleyball club for 15 years. Volleyball has a long and rich history in Laguna Beach, both as a sporting activity and as a unifying force in the community. The Laguna Open Volleyball Tournament, which began in 1955 on Main Beach, without a local club here in town, is the world’s longest running beach volleyball tournament. 

“Kids weren’t getting the opportunity to play volleyball as I did growing up,” said Hanson. “It made a huge difference in my life and many others. Rolf Engen started a club when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was the first organized volleyball club in California and on the frontier of volleyball clubs.”

In the early 1970s Engen, local volleyball 1991 Hall of Fame player, created a youth volleyball club – the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club – and coached the high school teams. During the time he was coaching, from 1975-1979, the results were historic, including league, county and multiple CIF championships with three golds and a silver.

“The Club provided a pathway and a means to scholarships and a professional career. A lot of us that played in the club received college scholarships, and went on to play professional – some even went on to the Olympics and won gold medals,” Hanson said.

Engen also started the volleyball program at UCLA. The spirit of Laguna Beach Volleyball was to promote personal development and character via competition, instilling many of the principles of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. 

leif hanson playing volleyball

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Courtesy of Leif Hanson

Hanson (facing) playing in a beach volleyball competition 

An idea comes to fruition

“At Engen’s memorial in 2018, I started thinking about how fortunate we were to have had the volleyball club in junior high and high school,” Hanson said. “I talked to my old friend and coach, Craig Thompson (Engen’s nephew) about the possibility of bringing it back and he was as inspired as I was about the idea.”

More than 40 years ago, Thompson was one of the first coaches for LBVB that his uncle started. He played collegiately at UCLA, was head coach at UCI and also for the Southern California Bangers in the IVA pro league. Then after heading up the 1984 Olympic volleyball venue operations, he became technical director of the International Volleyball Federation headquartered in Switzerland.

Bringing a youth volleyball club back to Laguna was a way of paying tribute to Engen and the sport that has given both Hanson and Thompson so much. “We wanted to provide kids a foundation that will set them up for success on the court and off,” Hanson said. 

At LCVC, players learn the fundamentals of the sport in a positive, fun environment with the goal of instilling a passion for the game and a love of competition. 

“Beyond teaching volleyball skills, our even bigger goal is to help educate the kids on life lessons that will help build integrity, character and respect for adults and each other,” Hanson said.

How the Club works

Of the 100 LCVC members, at this point, about 90% are girls, but that’s changing as time goes on. “More and more boys are finding the sport to be so much fun,” Hanson said. “Thurston now has intermural basketball and volleyball, so a lot of kids are being introduced to the two sports.” 

There are more than 100 teams in the volleyball clubs in Orange County, San Barbara and San Diego. The Southern California Volleyball Association (SCVA) puts on tournaments once a month, mostly local. 

leif hanson girls

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Courtesy of Leif Hanson

Laguna Coast Volleyball Club members and Hanson 

Kids can start as early as 8 years of age. LCVC also offers Club Lite Volleyball for girls and boys, grades 3rd-5th and 6th-8th. LCVC Club Lite is a way to introduce young players to club volleyball in a low-stress, fun environment. Teams are separated by age/ability so experienced coaches help the kids focus on developing basic skills – setting, passing, hitting and team play – everything players need to learn to play at the next level.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Hans Hagen: The Mauli Ola Foundation brings the breath of life to cystic fibrosis patients

By DIANNE RUSSELL 

Born and raised in Laguna, Hans Hagen, executive director of the nonprofit Mauli Ola Foundation (MOF), turned his passion for surfing into creating unforgettable surfing experiences for cystic fibrosis patients and, at the same time, providing a natural therapy for their symptoms. The name of the foundation says it all – Mauli Ola means “breath of life.”

“I was lucky to be able to make a living surfing for 40 years,” Hagen said. “I was in the twilight of my professional surfing career and was looking for ways to give back. I started as a volunteer for the Mauli Ola Foundation on their first Surf Experience Day and pediatric Hospital Visit tour across the U.S. in 2010. I fell in love with the program. It was a real eye opener.”

After volunteering for four years, Hagen became executive director of MOC in 2012. 

Hans Hagen closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Executive Director of the Mauli Ola Foundation Hans Hagen

Founded in 2008, MOF was organized to educate, spread awareness and provide alternative therapies for genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs in the body. The foundation created on-site national support programs for kids and adults with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities. These on-site programs include surf experience days and children’s hospital visits, in which they connect the world’s best action sports athletes with the kids for special one-on-one sessions. MOF raises funds through donations, memberships, merchandise, golf tournaments and unique concert events. With that funding, they provide an immediate direct option for children with genetic disorders and other conditions.

Mauli Ola Foundation is created 

In 2007, brothers Charles and James Dunlop read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about how ocean water provides natural therapy for individuals with CF. The Australian study found that inhaling saltwater vapor is beneficial to the lungs affected by CF. Additionally, the patients involved in the study reported their lungs felt clearer after surfing and breathing in the mist from the sea.

hans hagen girl on board

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Photo by Peter King

Hagen applauding a surf camp participant

Having dedicated their lives to working with CF at Ambry Genetics in Aliso Viejo and surfing in their spare time, Charles and James decided immediately to blend their professional and personal passions to create the Mauli Ola Foundation (MOF).

The Dunlop brothers introduced surfing and ocean-based activities as natural therapies to help children with CF to breath more easily and to have fun at the same time. Through word of mouth, they were able to connect the top water men and women from across the globe to meet with children in need.

Now, every year, MOF organizes a tour across the nation to promote education and to raise awareness on genetic disorders, as well as to heighten research in the clinical field. The annual tour includes awareness events, visits to pediatric hospitals and Surf Experience Days (SED). The foundation also sends its world-class surfing ambassadors nationwide to serve as hosts for the SEDs. During these days, pediatric patients with CF are brought to the ocean with professional surfers, combining treatment and fun. 

“Due to the patients’ compromised immune systems, cystic fibrosis is a very isolating disease,” Hagen said. “At the camps, families can gather at the beach (at a 10-ft. distance) and feel a sense of community. It’s tough on the caretakers. It takes three hours of self-care just to get the CF patients out the door. At the beach, parents get a little break.” Some of the participants have had lung transplants.

The camp goes from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and includes breakfast and lunch – and gifts of tour shirts and tote bags. Sometimes there’s live music at the events. 

Hans Hagen sunglasses

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Hagen fell in love with the program as a volunteer

 Evidently, cystic fibrosis doesn’t like salt water. Inhaling it rehydrates the airways, allowing mucus to flow more easily and be dislodged by coughing. Patients have used saline nebulizers to achieve the same effect for years. It seems to all come down to the fact that if you surf and you suffer from cystic fibrosis, you have less severe symptoms than if you didn’t. 

“The mist from the waves helps break down membrane naturally,” Hagen said. “The kids and adults are breathing better and doing cardio at the same time. Usually it’s difficult for them to consume enough calories, and the exercise helps them pack in more calories.”

The surfing life

Deeply rooted in Laguna’s surf scene, Hagen started surfing when he was 8 years old. “I couldn’t imagine a better environment growing up; our generation had a great run of the place. My dad was a surfer, and our Volkswagen van was constantly stacked with boards rolling somewhere between Baja and Big Sur. He was a schoolteacher and also ran a surfing camp.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Shannon Hall and Danielle Holland: The Ritual Refill provides products with a purpose

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Shannon Hall and Danielle Holland, owners of The Ritual Refill, are not only close friends, they have proven to be excellent business partners.

Taking to heart their motto of “less is more,” Hall and Holland opened The Ritual Refill with the intention of creating an inviting space to interact with the community – and together, learn to live more sustainably. There’s no doubt they have succeeded. It’s an inspiring shop with an impressive selection of products, making it easy for customers to adopt the ritual of using “low waste products.”

Through a mutual friend, Hall and Holland met some five-plus years ago. They soon discovered they had a lot in common, both came from Laguna and both worked in the retail and apparel fields. Hall went to Dana Hills High School, and Holland went to Thurston and was then home schooled. 

shannon hall duo

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Owners Shannon Hall (on left) and Danielle Holland

They also shared a passion – one that led to the founding of The Ritual Refill – the desire to reduce single-use plastic, live more sustainably and promote conscious shopping. Prior to opening The Ritual Refill, both Holland and Hall had small businesses, so they already possessed some skill in that area. 

As stated on their website, “Having come from years in the retail and apparel world, we’ve witnessed first-hand the insurmountable amount of waste that’s generated by consumers every day. Growing up near the beach, we both developed a deep appreciation for the ocean and nature. We combined our love for low-waste living and supporting like-minded brands with our experience and entrepreneurial spirits and The Ritual Refill was born.”

“It was meant to be,” Holland said. “We complement each other in many ways. If one of us isn’t as knowledgeable about something, the other is. We also have the same idea about the direction of the store and its theme and we love the same products.”

However, each has her own personal favorites – Hall’s favorite is Mind and Body Wash by Bathing Culture and Holland’s is the shampoo and conditioner by La Tierra Sagrada.

shannon hall bottles and name

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The Ritual Refill opened in February 2022

Contrary to the notion that sometimes friends don’t make good business partners, Hall and Holland agree on everything.  “We never have disagreements,” said Holland. 

“It’s a collaboration, even on our name, which has specific meaning – and the logo,” Hall said. “We wanted to incorporate the word ritual into the name and I added the sun.”

However, each has assigned tasks. “We play to each other’s strengths,” Holland said. “We do tackle a lot of the tasks together like buying, event planning and overall store vision, but I tend to be the creative eye, while Shannon is the brains.” 

Holland and Hall concur that their biggest accomplishment thus far has been opening the store. A surprising fact is that the store was completely self-funded by 29-year-old Hall and 27-year-old Holland. To start the business, Holland sold her car and Hall used her savings. 

“There are no investors or loans,” Hall emphasized, which must give them an element of freedom in their business decisions.

Purposeful products

In attempting to incorporate low waste with high quality products, Hall and Holland do meticulous research. The criteria for products – it must be clean and pure, with no harmful ingredients, some are vegan. 

“We didn’t get stuff to just fill the store,” Hall said. “These are products we stand behind day in and day out.” 

“It’s hard to find vendors that sell product in bulk,” said Holland. “We’ve learned so much.” As much as possible, they try to buy from vendors in California.

Holland continued, “I’m passionate about what I put on my skin. I’m a licensed esthetician. Focusing on less waste is what keeps us looking to the future.”

Some of the products they carry: hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, shampoo, body wash, sunscreen and wellness products. They are looking to add dog shampoo. 

shannon hall interior

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Welcoming shop features work of local artists

When they opened the store, they had only 10 refillable products, now they have more than 40 and hope to double that in the future. “Our long range plans include making our own products,” Holland said. “Shannon’s father has experience in that area.”

The Ritual Refill also carries many local brands such as Laguna Beach’s Kung Fu Tonic, Anoint Daily from Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa’s Etto Oil and Iron Lion Soap from Santa Ana. Customers can shop for silk scarves from Bryn Valaika of Colorem in Laguna Beach. Additionally, the store offers Coastline Pottery Ceramics from Capo Beach, as well as Bowman Ceramics of Long Beach.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Randy Morgan: An architectural artist whose Laguna art walls are full of legends and lore

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut 

When asked which of his artwork is his favorite piece, architectural artist Randy Morgan replied, “I think it’s either ahead of me or the one I’m working on.”

Once into a project, Morgan admitted that he becomes obsessed with getting it right – whether it’s finding the correct species of swallow for his project at the Marriott in San Juan Capistrano or what the Native Americans would be wearing in his installation Old San Juan in San Juan Capistrano.

Although that particular aspect of his process involves considerable research, according to Morgan, he often has “lightbulb” moments during the night – and new ideas are always ruminating.

“We are all born creators with a God given talent to create something, but some of us live in a constant state of creativity,” Morgan said.

randy morgan closeup

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Randy Morgan 

Morgan is a master sculptor, who for more than 40 years has worked as an architectural artist. His work, which is 90% commissioned projects, is sought after by developers, architects, art collectors and eclectic homeowners alike. He is the creator of the Waterman’s Wall (on the wall of Hobie Surf Shop) and the Laguna Panorama at the Art Hotel (now owned by Oceanic Enterprises) which are the two largest art pieces in town. These art murals are a part of a series which make up his “Roadmap of Art Walls” which stretch from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to Chico, Calif.

“My work is inspired by my love for history, nature and unique art mediums,” Morgan said. 

The making of “Waterman’s Wall”

Waterman’s Wall depicts many of the figures in the Laguna Beach ocean scene: Former Chief of Marine Safety Mark Klosterman; winner of the 1975 Duke Kahanomku Invitational Surf contest Ian Cairns; co-founder of MacGillivray Freeman Films, Jim Freeman and many others.

Laguna Panorama – which he created for girlfriend Gail Duncan when she owned the Art Hotel chronicles the history of Laguna from Greeter Eiler Larsen to the founding of Pacific Marine Mammal Center and celebrates its lore and legends such as John Cunningham.

One of the works that is close to Morgan’s heart is the statue he created of Skipper Carrillo, Have a Home Run Day, on the corner of Glenneyre Street and Park Avenue. “The statue captures the smiling Skipper, waving his arms and yelling his mantra…‘have a home run day’ (how many times have we seen him do it!),” said Morgan. Skipper is a Laguna legend and worked at Laguna Beach High School for 51 years taking care of the football team’s uniforms and he umpired at Riddle Field for 25 years.

Morgan’s first public art project in Laguna was at the Glenn Vedder Ecological Reserve underwater park and tidepools. “I installed sea creatures at each entrance and then someone sawed them off. It was discouraging,” he said.

randy morgan piece in living room

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One of Morgan’s pieces in the living room of the house he shares with Gail Duncan. They met when she owned the Art Hotel and needed an artist to create a mural.

As far back as he can remember, Morgan burned with a passion for the arts. His talents were first recognized when he was 5 years old by his kindergarten teacher when she entered his Painting of a Horse at the LA County Fair where it won 1st place and a blue ribbon. As a child, Morgan’s father brought home large rolls of paper from his print shop and soon found his son immersed in drawing. “I drew detailed portraits of my sports heroes and cowboys and Indians,” Morgan said.

In addition to the title “artist,” Morgan is also an author. In 2019, he wrote The Creation Code about how to “find your medium, manifest your art and make money doing it.”

“Years ago, there was no way for artists to sell their art – there was no e-commerce, they had to go to an art gallery,” Morgan said. “But now there are so many ways to sell art, and it’s possible to make money as an artist. Back when I started out in the 1970s, I couldn’t make a living as an artist. It wasn’t possible to be seen and sold all over the world.”

From Mississippi to Laguna

Morgan grew up in Mississippi. “My father was in World War II and was then drafted during the Korean war,” he said. “We came to La Verne, Calif., in the ‘60s. I fell in love with art and was trying to make my way into the art world. I’m self-taught. I’ve never done anything but make art, but now, looking back, I wish I would have given art a lot more energy instead of just getting by, I regret that.”

Randy Morgan work in progress

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Morgan works on one of his projects – pencil drawing on the right with overlay on the left

Duncan added, “Because he’s self-taught, he’s a great mentor.”

“When I came here in the ‘70s, LCAD was small and offered only one or two classes, or I might have gone there,” Morgan said. “I’ve spent time with super-talented kids, and if you want to be really good, you have to put the time in and work hard to build your craft.”

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Laguna Logo 2022

Marc Wiener: Director of Community Development finds calling in urban planning

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” is a quote often attributed to the ancient Chinese sage Confucius – although in that era, job choice flexibility must have been sharply limited. 

No matter where the adage originated, it’s a philosophy that Community Development Director Marc Wiener wholeheartedly embraces. “Even though some weeks are challenging, I love my job and feel that I have found my calling,” he said. “I enjoy public service and the special challenges that come with the position of being director. I like solving problems.” 

Wiener came to his position at the City of Laguna Beach with a history of public service in another coastal community. After serving 12 years with the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the last four as director, he was appointed Laguna Beach Community Development Director in December 2019. 

As Wiener took over the position just before the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, he immediately had to deal with some extraordinary obstacles. 

“Having the pandemic occur within my first few months added to the challenge of learning the new job. With the closure of City Hall, we had to find new ways of working with the public and issuing permits. Responding to the issues was a team effort and I grew closer with my employees because of it.”

When fully staffed, his department will have 46 employees.

Marc Wiener closeup

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Marc Wiener

As a problem solver, Wiener’s focus is on clear communication and finding the most direct path to a solution, seeking common solutions in a collaborative manner. “My goals are to ensure that the staff is providing exceptional customer service to the community, improve the Community Development Department practices and procedures, streamline the entitlement process in a sensible manner and address longstanding policy issues,” he said.

In the three years since he took over the department, he is well on the way to achieving many of his goals.

History

Little in Wiener’s early years suggested he would go into urban planning as a career. He was born in San Jose and raised in Northern California. “Most of my childhood was spent living on a horse ranch in a town called San Juan Bautista,” he said. “My mother raised and bred prized Lipizzan horses, so I spent a lot of time doing projects on the ranch and helping with the caretaking of up to 30-40 horses. I helped build many structures on the ranch and will never forget how hard it was digging hundreds of post holes.” He has one sister.

Wiener is an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) certified planner. He holds a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from San Jose State University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz. 

In response to the question about what other career he might have pursued, Wiener replied, “Likely the medical field. My dad always told me I should be a doctor or a pilot. My bachelor’s degree is in science with a focus on molecular biology. After several years of working in laboratories, including a stint in forensic science, I decided to pursue a new career path and was either going to be a physician’s assistant or city planner. I was accepted into master’s programs for both career paths, but ultimately chose city planning. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My original intent was to be an environmental planner, but the more I learned about planning, I veered away from it and decided to be a public sector planner.”

Family matters

As one would anticipate, there are aspects of his life that have nothing to do with zoning, permits or codes. As Wiener admitted, readers might be surprised to learn, “I’m kind of a kid at heart. I still play pick-up basketball, play video games. I enjoy superheroes and science fiction. It’s funny because my two teenage boys have outgrown the superhero movies, but their dad is still a fan.” He also enjoys science – astrophysics, chemistry and biology. When he was a boy, he would have lengthy discussions with his mother about science and theories of how the universe works. 

Marc Wiener public art

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(L-R) Mason, Emily, Marc, Sherry and Ryland in front of the sculpture “Grace” at the Main Beach Lifeguard Station

Married 22 years, Wiener met his wife Sherry through a mutual friend. They went to the same high school, but he did not meet her until several years after they graduated. “Sherry is my biggest fan and my best friend. She’s supportive and always available to help me with good advice,” he said.

They have three children – two sons, 16-year-old Mason and 13-year-old Ryland, who both play football, and a daughter, 7-year-old Emily, who is into gymnastics. 

Of all his personal accomplishments, Wiener said, “I am most proud of being a husband and father of three. My family loves living in South OC. It’s a beautiful place and there are so many things to do. I like how everything is so close – Disneyland, San Diego, or the snow – and within an hour or two of home. That was part of why we moved here. I was ready for a change of scenery.”

A new role 

The responsibilities of the Director of Community Development encompass many areas of urban planning – property zoning, use of property and law and code enforcement.

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Laguna Logo 2022

Bill Atkins: Longtime local graphic artist embarks on new projects with nonprofits

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For decades, graphic artist Bill Atkins has been part of Laguna’s art scene. He’s exhibited at the Sawdust Festival, for a decade served as freelance designer for the Festival of Arts (FOA) and taught digital imagery and art at Laguna College of Art + Design (LCAD). One can often see him walking around town in his signature straw hat.

It’s almost impossible to venture far without seeing one of Atkins’ creations – whether it be a banner, poster, logo or plaque. His designs are unique and as a result, highly identifiable. Not only can they be seen in Laguna, his work is scattered throughout California and in other states as well.

At this particular juncture in his career, Atkins has already produced an impressive portfolio of projects, however, just recently a slew of new work with nonprofits has come his way. It was serendipitous that Stu News contacted him at a time when he had exciting news to share. 

bill atkins closeup

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Bill Atkins

 “Within the past 14 days, there have been many projects in the works, some are already approved and others are waiting for approval,” Atkins said. “Just recently, I am pleased to be working on projects that honor some of the greatest visionaries we have seen in our City and County – James Dilley, father of the Laguna Greenbelt; Bill Rihn, founder of the South Laguna Community Garden and Larry “Flame” Moore, legendary surfing photographer.”

In addition, the City Manager’s Office of Laguna Beach commissioned him to design 16 vinyl street banners for the HIP District, and that project was completed in July. “It’s always rewarding to be asked by the city to do a project,” Atkins said. One of his banners is installed at City Hall.

Many of his clients are old connections, some are new. Currently he is working with Sally’s Fund, Connellsville, Pa.; the Botanical Garden at UH, Hilo; Laguna Beach Sister Cities, South Laguna Garden; Susi Q; Dana Point Sister Cities and The Time Capsule poster for Dana Point Harbor for their 50-year celebration. He has previously worked with Laguna Greenbelt, Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, the Garden Club, Blue Bell Cat Foundation and many more.

At FOA he designed graphics promoting the FOA Permanent Collection, as well as numerous bronze plaques to honor the Permanent Collection artists and a large bronze plaque, honoring the board of directors, the design firms and the Laguna Beach City Council on the collaboration on the remodeling of the grounds a few years ago.

bill atkins projects

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Some of Atkins’ current projects, several have already been approved 

“Give me type and I’m happy,” Atkins said. “There are wonderful choices now of specific fonts.”

Although he loves typography, in a previous interview with Stu News, he admitted, “Marrying images and typography for the kind of result I want, and that my clients want, can be tricky. Poster art is sometimes not given the same respect as other art forms, maybe because here in Laguna plein air has ruled for so long, but it has a rich history and demands a lot of focus. I love the challenge.” 

Atkins’ posters depict iconic local places and events, including Crystal Cove cottages and the FOA, as well as famous performing artists such as Cyndi Lauper.

Posters are unique, Atkins said, because they tend to carry explicit messages through images and typography, images that transcend international and cultural barriers. Think of travel posters and film posters, or of Atkins’ Sister Cities series, featuring scenes from Laguna’s sister cities: Menton, France; San Jose del Cabo, Mexico and St. Ives, England. The detailed graphics and colors reflect the commonality and shared appreciation of our ocean-side communities. 

He’s also donated his time and talent to graphic arts campaigns benefiting the Art Museum, AIDS Services Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign. In other capacities, in the 1980s, he was on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and at one time was a board member of Sister Cities.

bill atkins office

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Atkins’ office and gallery 

“Supervisor Lisa Bartlett has been so good to me. I’ve been issued a few awards,” Atkins said.

Atkins has also partnered with the City of Dana Point in the development of the new harbor. His time capsule poster for the harbor’s 50th anniversary has already been approved. 

Set on the right road

Atkins was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I come from a huge family. I’m the oldest of seven – I have three brothers and three sisters,” Atkins said. “One of my brothers is a cabinet maker, and I’ve worked with him on some of my plaque projects. He makes the solid wood frames.” 

Atkins credits a priest (his counselor) at his Catholic High School for pushing him into what would ultimately become his career. 

“The priest asked me what I liked to do,” Atkins said. “When I said art, he said, ‘I don’t know anything about art, call some art schools.’ So I did. There was one not far from where I lived and the president of the art school was a neighbor. I was blessed by that priest, his advice set me on a path. How many people get paid for what they love to do?”

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Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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