This is your mother’s charity.
Kids and Teens Care L.A.-La Cañada is a grassroots group formed 2½ years ago with two goals: to look out for the less fortunate around the world — including right here in La Cañada Flintridge — and to teach the youth involved the value of such work.
Annette Dominguez-O’Hair is the mom behind the group’s formation, but she hasn’t given herself a title other than organizer, preferring for the collective of about 40 families to operate as a democracy.
The organizing started when she rounded up nine other moms after learning of the death of a young mother who worked in LCF. Dominguez-O’Hair said she wanted badly to help the woman’s family, but the philanthropic groups she was working with then indicated that before anything could be done, action would have to be considered and approved by the organization’s higher-ups.
Dominguez-O’Hair didn’t approve of that. She wanted to help immediately, so she opted not to wait.
“We just got together at my house and said, ‘Let’s start this group and really teach our kids that it is our responsibility, no matter how much or how little, if we’re able to give back in some way, it’s about finding solution for helping others by thinking out of the box,’” she said.
Dominguez-O’Hair said the group still delivers Christmas and Easter presents to that family, the first of many who have been helped by her LCF branch of Kids and Teens Care L.A.
With their mothers’ support, the older children in the group are empowered to lead the organizing efforts for food drives such as Meals on Training Wheels, which delivers to Union Station, and holiday-themed fundraisers such as the Halloween maze that benefited the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House. Together, they’ve also raised money for children in a remote village in Nepal, cleaned beaches in Malibu, washed wigs for cancer patients and engaged in a multitude of other worthwhile projects.
“It’s a way to help the community. It brings families together and makes us all realize how lucky we are to have what we have,” said Riana Lui, who will be a senior at La Cañada High School next month.
Dominguez-O’Hair said Kids and Teens Care is different than the other charitable entities with which she has been involved because 100% of the money the group raises goes to those who need it; there is no overhead, there’s no budget for feeding members at meetings. “I can pay for my own wine or food,” is how Dominguez-O’Hair put it.
And then there’s the fact that the group’s most impactful efforts happen under the radar and, often, anonymously. The nearly invisible branch of the organization named for the kids is operated mostly by the moms: Call it Kids and Teens and Moms Care.
Last month, Dominguez-O’Hair went public with one case, posting an online appeal to the community to raise money for a La Cañada High School graduate who was homeless and living out of his car while attending college in Nevada.
“We believe this young man deserves a compassionate break,” she wrote. “We would like to help him get into a stable living situation so he can continue his studies.”
The goal was to raise $3,000; in 10 days, the group had exceeded that. Those funds, Dominguez-O’Hair said, will go directly from the group to the young man’s landlord because, well, they’re looking out for him as they would their own kids.
“Although we trust him and he’s proven that he’s done well, we don’t want to hand the money over to him,” she said. “It’s strictly for his housing. We want him to make sure he’s enrolled in college for September.”
Dominguez-O’Hair met the young man when he was a senior at La Cañada High School, working at a local grocery store to earn money to pay for his car, in which he lived.
“Here was this fresh-faced, beautiful boy who was eloquent and … I could feel his heart and his determination and his resilience and his strength,” she said. “This was a kid who has a future. After surviving all of this, he is going to do something with his life and, hopefully, whatever he does, he’s going to make the world a better place and teach others how to give back as well.”
The young man’s situation is not typical in the affluent community of LCF, but it’s become the type of outreach that the moms behind Kids and Teens Care have taken on.
“When we started the group, it was just to teach our kids about doing the right thing,” Dominguez-O’Hair said. “And then, a year after we started, one of our members came to us and said, ‘I heard of this mom who’s living in her car with two kids who used to live in La Cañada. We need to help them.’
“They had a preacher who paid for them to stay in a hotel in Glendale for one night, and so I went to meet them and I cried my eyes out the entire night.”
In that instance, Dominguez-O’Hair said the group wound up paying for the family to stay in a hotel for 15 days — until the group was able to coordinate temporary housing for them at Door of Hope in Pasadena.
“What we’ve found is that when privileged people find themselves in need in an area like [LCF] … they don’t know how to get resources,” Dominguez-O’Hair said. “A lot of stay-at-home moms who are getting divorced, they don’t know how to deal with it. This was very, very eye-opening for our members — ‘Oh, my god, that happens.’
“And we’ve found that people don’t know where to go for help because, No. 1, they’re embarrassed, and also they don’t want to tell their friends, they don’t want to tell the school and they don’t believe it can really be happening to them. And so they’re in a predicament where they fall harder and faster.”
Hana Oshima, who is active with the group, was one of those moms a few years ago.
In the midst of a difficult divorce, money trouble left her struggling to put food on the table for several months. She said she made sure her children were fed but that she lived on a daily diet of only a discounted cup of yogurt. She lost about 15 pounds throughout the ordeal. She said sold family jewelry to make ends meet. And she stressed.
“The rug was pulled out from underneath me,” she said. “It was like, ‘How am I going to find a house? We’ve been living in La Cañada for over 15 years. How do I keep the kids in the school district?’ It was sheer panic. … And it just kind of spirals, where there was no light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel just got longer.”
She would have loved to have the help she and her friends now offer to those experiencing similar struggles.
That help comes in many forms, including employment resources, car repairs, dental visits, haircuts, college planning and food, much of it supplied at no cost by local businesses.
And while their moms quietly take care of the more delicate situations, the kids and teens in the group contribute by keeping their eyes and hearts open.
“There’s a lot more going on that’s bad that you don’t realize. You definitely don’t know everyone’s story,” Lui said.
So if she or her fellow group members notice a peer who doesn’t ever seem to have lunch at school, they share that observation, which in several cases has led to the group anonymously paying for students’ lunches. The group has also paid for yearbooks, senior activities such as grad night or a trip to Catalina Island, as well as all-important college planning services for eight students, Dominguez-O’Hair said.
“We didn’t start this group thinking we would be [assisting] so directly,” Dominguez-O’Hair said. “We became all the things we intended to be, but when we were faced with this other aspect, we’re moms with hearts, we’re going to help.
“And we are teaching our kids that if you find something that is lacking in this world, you can create it. It’s within your power and your right to make things happen.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/kidscarela.