On a Saturday morning in late July, a handful of adults were escorting more than two-dozen kids to the North Main Beach tidepools in Laguna Beach.
As they were making their way down the stairs from Heisler Park to the beach, a man sitting on a bench remarked to one of the adults, “It looks like you have your hands full.”
The adult happened to be Lt. James Kazakos of the Anaheim PD, who proceeded to tell the man about the reason for the beach excursion.
After a brief conversation, the man opened his wallet and gave Kazakos a $100 bill.
“Go buy the kids some ice cream,” he told Kazakos.
What moved the man to be so generous was the reason behind the July 30 day trip.
Kazakos is director of the Orange County Family Justice Center, a multi-agency non-profit run by the Anaheim PD that serves survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, elder/dependent adult abuse and sexual assault.
The children (some with their parents and siblings) who accompanied Kazakos are graduates of OCFJC’s Kids Creating Change, a 12-week program that teaches children who have experienced violence that “hands are not for hitting” and “love doesn’t have to hurt.”
Kids ages 5-12 can participate in Kids Creating Change. The four-hour excursion to Laguna Beach, which was designed for the kids to learn about marine life and water safety, and for them to have some fun at the beach too, is one of the ways the OCFJC Foundation staff stays in touch with the children and their families to see how they are doing.
It was the third summer in a row the program graduates made the special trip to Laguna Beach.
Amee Penso, author of “Tidepools of Laguna Beach,” served as the group’s tidepool educator.
She educated the kids about such sea creatures as anemones, sea slugs and tube snails, and plants such as “dead man’s fingers” and kelp.
“Did you know kelp is a binding ingredient in ice cream?” Penso asked the children.
She also told them that giant kelp can grow three feet in a single day.
Part of the beach fun included a tour of the historic lifeguard tower at Main Beach. Built in 1929, lifeguards call it the “white tower” — one of seven towers on Main Beach.
Inside the white tower, the kids looked through a pair of binoculars.
“I saw the ocean and I saw some birds,” one 7-year-old boy said.
Said another: “It was like magic looking through it. Things were far away and then they got really close.”
Marine Safety Lt. Kai Bond of the City of Laguna Beach taught the kids about the color of flags for swimmers — red means stay out of the water, yellow means swim with extreme caution, green means swim, but he reminded the children to always be careful and always swim with a buddy.
Bond also explained to the children the dangers of rip tides – currents below the surface of the water that can pull a person out to sea.
The Laguna Beach trip and food, including transportation from and back to Anaheim on a chartered bus, was funded by donations to the non-profit Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation, said Tracy Theodore, executive director of the foundation.
For many of the kids, it was only their second trip to the beach – and, for most, their first to Laguna.
It’s rare for the children to venture far from their homes in Anaheim because many come from economically strapped families. So a beach trip that many people in O.C. would take for granted was a very special excursion for the Kids Creating Change graduates — as well as their parents.
Rocio Lopez, 42, heard about the Kids Creating Change program at My Safe Harbor, a faith-based nonprofit geared at empowering single mothers — many of them low-income single moms lacking in functional life skills, employment, health car, and support systems, and many with histories of domestic abuse, homelessness or addiction.
Lopez enrolled her son, Francisco Gomez, 6, in the Kids Creating Change program because he had been getting bullied and at times would act out inappropriately.
“Now he is more confident and he knows how to defend himself,” Lopez said. “This is a fabulous program; it’s been a great help.”
Added Lopez: “We as parents need to get more involved (in our kids’ lives). We need to get off the couch and get involved instead of just complaining about everything.”
Parents and volunteers made sandwiches for the kids that they enjoyed on the grass in Heisler Park before the trip back to Anaheim.
And there was more than enough ice cream to go around for everyone.
For more information, visit orangecountyfamilyjusticecenter.org or ocfjcfoundation.org