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Giving kids a hand up

Laguna businessman helps 'motel' teens to back to school in style. Other Lagunans are also part of Project HOPE.

September 02, 2010|By Ashley Breeding, coastlinepilot@latimes.com
  • Kids from Project HOPE go on a back-to-school shopping spree at Hobies in downtown Laguna.
Kids from Project HOPE go on a back-to-school shopping… (courtesy of Project…)

Amid a time of economic hardship, Hobie Surf Shop has been inundated with hundreds of requests for charity donations from the store, owner Mark Christy said.

Actively involved with SchoolPower as well as schools in Laguna's neighboring cities, Christy said "giving back to the community" is one of the most satisfying parts of his job.

That's why, in times like these, he said it breaks his heart that he's not able to help everyone in need, especially when he sees volunteers working so diligently to help their causes.

"The reality is, it's a tough economy, and there is only so much a little company like ours can do," he said. "We've had to turn many people away."

But when he and store manager, Dawn LaChance, heard a compelling story about Project HOPE, an outreach program that educates children who don't have permanent homes, Christy said something hit home for LaChance, who lobbied hard for the cause.

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"Dawn grew up in a pretty rough section of Detroit and has become successful as a result of her amazing work ethic," he said. "She remembered how it felt going to school wearing old, non-fashionable hand-me-downs and wanted to give these kids, who already are facing more than their share of challenges, something to feel good about."

The pair invited six of the program's graduates to Hobie for a mini shopping spree, where they picked out their own clothes, backpacks and other back-to-school basics that they'd need for their freshman year of high school.

"There is just something magical about letting someone pick out there own stuff to express their individual personality," Christy said.

An effort that began in 1989 by a selfless teacher who traveled to motels and taught homeless children in the back of her car, Project Hope has become an organized school under the Orange County Dept of Education.

Based in Orange, the school was developed to provide stable education for children who were forced to change schools each time their families moved to a different location in Orange County, Laguna resident and board member Cynthia Ryder said.

The year-round program, which now educates 70 children in K-8, is able to provide only three classrooms with one teacher to each, which is hardly ideal.

A Foundation was later established to develop a comprehensive program through fundraising that offers transportation, after-school care, counseling, medical care, food and clothing, and music education.

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