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3 Ways to Help San Diego Children

Organizations devoted to uplifting our next generation

Dresses for The Princess Project

By the Numbers

Dresses The Princess Project gives away every year

Teens YALLA helped get accepted to four-year colleges in 2015

Number of San Diego Center for Children academies

The Princess Project

Promoting self-confidence in teenage girls

The pageantry and angst of attending prom is a rite of passage into adulthood, and girls, especially, can spend months anticipating it. But many girls in San Diego County will miss prom this year because they can’t afford a dress. The Princess Project, a nonprofit that serves as a real-life fairy godmother, gives away 1,500 dresses every year to underprivileged girls so they can attend prom. Feeling special for even one night can do wonders for a girl’s self-esteem, says Co-chair Jennifer Gaston.

Volunteers gear up for the big dress giveaway in mid-April by setting up a temporary boutique where each girl gets a personalized shopping appointment. To raise funds, the organization hosts a runway show in February in collaboration with students from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, and sells any unclaimed dresses to the public at steep discounts at the end of April.

Co-chair Alma Lyles urges everyone to clean out their closets and make a donation for the drive, which starts in January. They need prom and formal dresses of all sizes in current styles (nothing older than 2008). Dresses can be dropped off at 32 locations throughout the county, such as neighborhood libraries. princessproject.org/locations/san-diego/

YALLA San Diego

Rebuilding the lives of refugees

The global refugee crisis has made headlines recently, but the issue of helping displaced people has long been close to home: Since 2007, more than 15,000 refugees have resettled in the city of El Cajon. The majority are from Iraq, and include children who have experienced trauma and had disruptions to their education. Add the challenges of language barriers and culture shock, and these children can easily feel alienated in their new home.

Mark Kabban, whose family left Lebanon during its civil war when he was nine years old, understands the struggles refugee children face. He found that soccer was something they universally loved, and the sport helped them get out of the house and engage. He started a league just for them, which became the nonprofit Youth and Leaders Living Actively (YALLA). Kabban caught the attention of CNN and even the L.A. Galaxy’s Landon Donovan, who helped the group organize soccer camps.

YALLA, which also means “let’s go” in Arabic, recently opened a facility in El Cajon that provides college prep and scholarships for refugee children. Using a customized software curriculum, it works with 227 students who hail from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Guatemala. In 2015, YALLA helped 21 teens get accepted to four-year colleges, and hopes to raise $80,000 this year for student scholarships.  yallasd.org

San Diego Center for Children

The region’s oldest nonprofit for children

The San Diego Center for Children has been serving the community for 128 years, and believes in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. The organization helps children with behavioral health disorders—who are often misdiagnosed or don’t receive the care that they need—succeed academically and socially through its nine-acre campus in Kearny Mesa and seven academies around San Diego County. 

The center estimates that one in five children suffers from a behavioral health issue—ranging from ADHD to anxiety, learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders—yet only 20 percent are properly diagnosed. The new Family Wellness Center, which opened in May, has provided health services to more children in need, and the organization hopes to open more wellness centers around the county.

There are numerous ways to donate to the center’s efforts, including attending one of its signature galas or events. The annual Wacky Wonky Walk & Kids Festival in October transforms downtown’s Waterfront Park into the land of Willy Wonka. A walk spanning nearly 5K is filled with candy and silly obstacles, and guests normally complete the walk while dressed in costumes. The annual anniversary celebration in spring is a formal affair with dinner, live music, and silent auctions—previous venues for the event include the US Grant Hotel and Hilton San Diego Bayfront.  centerforchildren.org

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