Laguna NextGen aims to encourage civic involvement and philanthropic work among locals.
By Ashley Burnett
Despite its relatively small size, the city of Laguna Beach contains a litany of nonprofits, charities, locally owned businesses and—of course—community-minded citizens who volunteer their time to everything from animal rescue initiatives to helping the homeless and raising money for local schools and environmental conservation efforts. Ironically, because of this large number of groups, it can be difficult to know where to begin once you make the decision to join the ranks of countless other individuals and throw your support behind a local cause or organization. And then, of course, there’s the concern that many people have—especially young people—about the time and money that giving back often necessitates.
“I think people are intimidated by charity because they think it will cost a lot,” says Lea Abel-Stone, a founding board member of Laguna NextGen, a group of young professionals heavily involved in charitable work. And with the price of some tickets to fundraiser galas and the often sky-high donations that make local headlines, this misconception can run rampant—particularly in Orange County. Fortunately, NextGen is here to change that, making it easier than ever to get involved in the community and to rally behind the cause of caring deeply about preserving and bettering Laguna for generations to come.
The original concept for Laguna NextGen was the brainchild of Laguna residents Aaron Talarico and Larry Nokes, who founded a similar group in 2012 through the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce and held meetings to address city issues. Roughly a year ago, with Talarico’s help—and the efforts of his wife, Catherine—a group of seven forward-thinking locals relaunched a similar organization, named it Laguna NextGen and made it their mission to focus on civic and nonprofit involvement.
Starting with its inaugural event in August 2015, the group quickly established itself as different from other fundraising groups in town, thanks to a combination of affordable ticket prices and fun gatherings beyond the typical dinner and an auction. Aimed at attracting attendees of all ages, the group’s first event was held at the Marine Room Tavern and featured a DJ set by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, which, ultimately, raised $5,000 for the Friendship Shelter.
And not only does the group raise money for several different charities around town, but it also pushes its members to attend City Council meetings and become more active in governmental life and processes in town. Of course, membership to the group is open, and it promotes itself heavily over social media sites like Instagram and Facebook—in fact, to join, all you have to do is “like” the group on either site or visit its website, lagunanextgen.com, for upcoming events, all of which are open to the public.
When it comes to doing things in a new way, NextGen is also courting a different demographic than other civic-minded groups, charitable organizations and boards in town do, namely 20- to 40-year-olds. Currently, the group—which boasts roughly 50 regular attendees at its meetings and events—is led by its seven founding board members, all of whom are young professionals who are living, working and/or raising young families in Laguna: Abel-Stone, Catherine Talarico, Nicole Anderson, Meghan MacGillivray Weil, Katie MacGillivray, Danielle Ward Shuster and Katrina Puffer, with Aaron Talarico as an honorary board member.
“Everyone attending [local civic meetings] are the same 40 people,” Abel-Stone explains, noting that younger generations are not typically represented in places like City Hall, for example. “The end result is that a lot of the things that are going to get ruled on … [affect] not just us, but our kids and future generations,” adds Abel-Stone, who works in Laguna as Anneliese Schools’ Manzanita campus director, in addition to her Laguna NextGen role. She notes the importance of getting younger residents more involved in local happenings and issues, which NextGen aims to do by creating events that are not only charitable and educational, but also enjoyable.
The group does not, however, push a particular political viewpoint and remains refreshingly neutral. The point is not to get the organization’s own agenda passed, but, rather, to encourage people to educate themselves on local issues, form their own opinions and vote. Through its events and gatherings, NextGen has found a fun way to inform members and engage and motivate them to take part in decision-making in town and to think about the ways in which they’d like to help shape the Laguna Beach that future generations will experience.
Since that initial kickoff event, NextGen has hosted a pop-up shop at Ritual Yoga Arts to support local businesses, a gala at Pacific Marine Mammal Center and attended numerous city meetings and worked on bringing in city officials to speak with the group on current issues—not bad for an organization that’s only been around for a little more than a year.
Given that the group is so focused on the future of Laguna Beach, it’s no surprise that setting goals and thinking ahead is at the top of its members’ list of priorities. “Looking back at our last year, I’m proud of our accomplishments,” says Anderson, NextGen board member and founding attorney of Laguna-based Anderson Law Group Inc. But, despite all the group has achieved thus far, she says, NextGen still has many objectives, including gaining a greater presence at city meetings. The organization is also looking to attract new members that are interested in creating local subcommittees of their own to address and become invested in specific city issues, such as the Downtown Specific Plan, and help out on the volunteering side of the community.
The group has also made great strides in attracting young business owners to collaborate with fundraising events. The Shop, KX 93.5 radio station and the Wine Gallery have all contributed by hosting or getting involved with events in the past. And additional fun happenings are sure to come. One, the brainchild of Puffer, will take on a richer/poorer theme, in which purchased tickets will either buy you a fancy, sit-down meal—or a couple of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and beers, all to benefit Friendship Shelter and Laguna Food Pantry. That’s a far cry from the traditional gala affair.
Motivated to Make a Difference
When asked why Laguna Beach is so full of charitable residents, Abel-Stone had this to say: “I think people know how special this town is. … The sense of community is very strong here.” Notably, all of the Laguna NextGen members were drawn to charitable work from a young age. Puffer, for instance, says that she gives back because she was “on the receiving end of charity” as a child who went through the foster care system. “I’ve always wanted to give back in some way,” she explains. Meanwhile, Anderson, who grew up in Michigan, was raised by parents who were heavily involved with local boards and organizations and encouraged her to volunteer from a young age. And Abel-Stone’s family has been entrenched in Laguna Beach’s nonprofits and organizations for four generations. Even today, with busy lives and burgeoning careers, Laguna NextGen members make giving back look simple.
For those who are new to charity work or are interested in getting involved in civic issues and debates, Anderson has this advice: “Follow us on social media, and go to any events that speak to you.” Getting involved is just that easy—trust them.
These are a few of the nonprofits and organizations that Laguna NextGen members support through their fundraising events and their own volunteering efforts—and all of them could use your help, too.
Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce
Dedicated to increasing economic prosperity in the city, the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce works tirelessly to promote local businesses, spotlighting what’s new in town and fun local happenings. (lagunabeachchamber.org)
Laguna Canyon Foundation
This foundation aims to protect the 20,000-acre South Coast Wilderness system, including Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, and has been running since 1989. (lagunacanyon.org)
This organization is dedicated to helping homeless adults become self-sufficient through rehabilitative services and employment opportunities. Each night, through the Friendship Shelter’s programming, nearly 100 homeless people are given a caring, warm environment in which to sleep. (friendshipshelter.org)
One World One Ocean
One World One Ocean’s campaign aims to raise awareness of the degradation of the sea and spark a movement to preserve its beauty and wonder through goals such as encouraging consumers to purchase sustainable seafood and reduce plastic pollution. (oneworldoneocean.com)
Pacific Marine Mammal Center
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) helps rescue, rehabilitate and release seals and sea lions. This organization began in 1971 as Friends of the Sea Lion and has cared for countless animals since its inception. (pacificmmc.org)