Giving children a chance

The “Lend a Hand Today” show with Al Roker arranges donations and a day at the beach for the A Chance for Children Foundation, cofounded by Malibu resident Greg Bonann.

By Seth Rubinroit / Special to The Malibu Times

Popular television personality Al Roker from NBC’s “Today” show hosted the eighth annual “Lend a Hand Today” broadcast at the Will Rogers State Beach Lifeguard Tower June 22. During the broadcast, Roker presented $429,693 worth of goods and services to Los Angeles’ A Chance for Children Foundation.

“This is the first time we have had this kind of exposure,” Malibu resident Greg Bonann, the cofounder and president of A Chance for Children, said. “Hopefully it will mean we can help more kids.”

Bonann, a lifeguard and the creator of the television series “Baywatch,” cofounded A Chance for Children Foundation with Tai Collins, an actress and writer for “Baywatch.” Since 1992, the foundation has taken underprivileged children to the beach to enjoy and learn about the ocean.

“I believe exposure creates reality,” Collins said. “Anything you expose children to gives them dreams and visions they would not have had otherwise. I have seen firsthand how we are changing children’s lives.”

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Among the goods and services donated to A Chance for Children Foundation were kayaks, clothes, laptops, ocean equipment, tickets to a Los Angeles Sparks basketball game, a $10,000 dollar check from Dockers and a new Mazda 5. These donations, as well as the publicity generated by being televised to a national audience, should ensure that many more children would have the opportunity to experience the beach through the foundation, Bonann said. In addition, the day of the broadcast representatives from the Los Angeles County Lifeguard Service, the county Fire Department, LAPD and Malibu Makos showed up to meet the children involved with the foundation, and take them into the ocean. During the day’s activities, the children were able to board a real “Baywatch” boat, and later took surf lessons at the ocean, finishing the day at Pepperdine University where they were given scuba lessons.

“When we were living in the shelter, the foundation gave us hope. These people showed us so much love,” said Ario Peña, who learned how to swim and give CPR when he attended one of the foundation’s summer camps 14 years ago, when he was 13 years old. “We would leave the violence of the neighborhood we were in, and we could just relax at the beach.”

Los Angeles Sparks’ legend Lisa Leslie was inspired enough by the foundation to wake up at 4:40 a.m. the morning after a basketball game to attend the “Lend a Hand Today” filming. Leslie presented the children with tickets to a Sparks game, and gave Collins and Roker personalized jerseys. “I am from the inner city as well,” Leslie said. “It is great that these kids have the opportunity to do sports they otherwise would not do. We do not really have access to surf and go to the beach when living in the inner city. It is great to have that exposure.”

“Today” producer Molly Palmer, with colleague Ian Wenger, produced the story on A Chance for Children, and arranged many of the donations to the charity, including 250 cases of juice from Naked Juice, and 4,000 pounds of Attune granola bars. She wrote in an msnbc.com online report about the experience: “Not only was I impressed with the generosity and kindness that Bonann, Collins and their amazing volunteers displayed, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many companies were willing to help our charity during this tough economic time. I’m going to bed today, 26 hours after I woke up yesterday, proud of this incredible project and grateful to foundations like A Chance for Children, as well as the companies and organizations that see the importance of giving kids a real shot.”

The “Lend a Hand Today” series started in 2002 to help smaller charities that were struggling as a result of charitable funds being diverted to 9-11 relief efforts. Since then, Roker has visited 34 cities in 28 states. This year, the “Today” show raised more than $2 million in donations, the most they have raised in one year.

“It is really not about a specific charity,” Roker said. “What we are hoping to do is to inspire folks. It might not be for this specific charity. Maybe it is for another charity. We want to create a ripple effect of giving. It is not even just about money or donating goods. It is the volunteers that are the lifeblood of these charities.”

More information about A Chance for Children Foundation, and donations to the foundation, can be obtained online at www.AChanceForChildren.org

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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