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United Way Blog

Influenced By A Fire Ravaged Community

While many students spent their spring break tanning on the beaches, others got their hands dirty cleaning them up. Aéropostale filmed its spring 2019 campaign in California and within weeks, the sites they had visited were destroyed by wildfires. The company was compelled to do something, so together with United Way, it rounded up an awesome group of volunteers comprised of Aéropostale staff, Millennial and Gen Z social media influencers, and a few sweepstakes winners to host an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) in Malibu. The group helped rebuild areas of Southern California that were ravaged by the Hill and Woolsey Fires of November 2018.

Yes, Malibu is a beautiful place, home to many wealthy families. But when natural disasters strike, unexpected expenses add up quickly and take an even greater toll on children, the elderly, and those with more modest incomes. At Seminole Springs Mobile Home Park, 110 homes were destroyed by the Woolsey Fire, forcing residents to evacuate. The ASB participants visited the community to deliver 300 hygiene kits that they had assembled and were so moved by the residents’ experiences, they returned later in the week to donate food and literacy kits for the children and families who had lost everything in the fire.

During the five-day initiative, participants also removed 300 pounds of trash at Zuma Beach, helped prepare for the upcoming growing season at Simi Valley Community Garden, assembled hundreds of hygiene kits for those recovering from the fires, and created literacy kits stocked with books for children in the community.

During the week’s activities, actor Sean O’Donnell and dancer Brooke Maroon really rolled up their sleeves and gave their all to help the community that they’ve considered “home.” As Sean shared, “Volunteering is hard work, but at the same time, you’re weirdly energized because you just want to keep doing it. You know you’re directly impacting someone and it’s a great feeling.” The participants noted how much they learned, and Brooke remarked how the experience really changed and broadened her perspective, especially about people in distress.

By the Numbers

  • 5 days
  • 36 volunteers   
  • 47 literacy kits assembled for children
  • 600 hygiene kits assembled for displaced residents
  • 300 pounds of trash removed from Zuma Beach

Therein lies the true value of ASB - taking people outside of their ordinary routines and immersing them in experiences that shape who they are. From increased empathy to a generosity mindset - as one of the participants, I know that I left recharged and reminded that giving of my time truly magnifies my own gratitude and commitment to continued volunteerism.

Inspired by what you read? Change starts with you. Take action today to make a difference in your community.