assistance league shovels

Assistance League members and supporters surround Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and Mayor Robert Garcia last week at the groundbreaking for the new Children's Center.

They're doing it for the kids.

For decades, the Long Beach chapter of the Assistance League has been providing free or low-cost orthodontic care out of their Philanthropic Center on East Spring Street. And pretty much since the day the Long Beach Unified School District began its school uniform policy, the group's Operation School Bell has been providing uniforms and school supplies to youngsters whose family couldn't afford them.

But there's more need than the Assistance League can handle, at least in the Philanthropic Center at 6220 E. Spring St. So last spring, the group launched the Creating Smiles Capital Campaign.

The goal was to create a new Children's Center in the 8,200-square-foot commercial building next door, moving both the orthodontic operation and the Operation School Bell storage and distribution center there. Then the Philanthropic Center could be remodeled to create more meeting and work spaces for auxiliary Cameo's mentoring program, the Assisteens group and more room for the Howard and Asian Art Collection.

Led by campaign chair Cynthia Terry, it took last than a year to raise 80 percent of the $5.5 million budget for the work. The building at 6200 E. Spring St. was purchased, and last Thursday, Feb. 28, a groundbreaking ceremony launched both construction and the public portion of the fund-raising campaign.

Two lead gifts kick-started the fundraising. The Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation donated $1.25 million to name the new Children's Center, and the Cherese Mari Laulhere Foundation provided $1 million to name the Philanthropic Center.

"Cherese was a volunteer at a very young age and she always wanted to make a difference," said Chris Laulhere, Cherese's mom and president of the foundation. "The gift we made in Cherese's memory has forged a partnership with Assistance league of Long Beach so we can both make a transformative difference in our community."

Once completed, the Miller Children's Center will allow the orthodontic program from the 700 children a year receiving braces to 1,000 children a year. Operation School Bell, run by the Rick Rackers auxiliary, will have the capacity to supply 2,000 more children for a total of 12,000 a year.

"Our challenge for the future is driven by the needs of children in our community," Terry said at the groundbreaking ceremony. "And the challenge before us is clear — to grow Operation School Bell and the Orthodontic Program, to build a new home to support these expanded programs in the Children's Center and to renovate the Philanthropic Center to better serve all the programs of Assistance League."

Construction of the Miller Children's Center will begin this month, and all the work is scheduled to be done this October.

For more information and to make a donation to the Creating Smiles Campaign, call (562) 627-5650 or go to www.allb.org.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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