Saving children's lives

Mayor Andy Stern poses with staff and children at The Children's Lifesaving Foundation community dinner at Sunset Restaurant last Wednesday. Photos by Heather O'Quinn / TMT

The Children's Lifesaving Foundation, which helps at-risk and homeless youth and families, thanks donors for support.

By Ryan O'Quinn/ Special to the Malibu Times

Smiles were everywhere in the room and praise and gratitude were the topic of the evening as members of The Children's Lifesaving Foundation gathered at Sunset Restaurant last week for their annual community meeting to say thanks to locals who donated goods and services to the organization.

"This is an opportunity for friends [of CLF] to meet children who have done well this year," said Maria D'Angelo, founder and president. "You are going to meet beautiful children who have excelled."

CLF is a nonprofit group based in Malibu that started 13 years ago and is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk and homeless children in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. They are active in a number of ways including creating educational and recreational spring and summer camps, helping homeless families move into homes and organizing programs that bring children, families and the community together.

On hand for the event were several business and community leaders, including Mayor Andy Stern.

"There are several worthy causes here in Malibu, but I am in awe of the work you are doing with The Children's Lifesaving Foundation," Stern said.

The original goal of CLF was to provide health care to terminally ill or at-risk children with special needs. D'Angelo realized children needed more than just medical attention and started the camp in Malibu that has seen more than 25,000 youth ages infant to 17.

Following the dinner on June 29, those in attendance heard from several of the youth in the program; all expressed thanks to the donors and the organization. Some of the children had been in the program for years and many attend The Learning Center, a tutoring program in Venice.

"All they have to do is their very best," D'Angelo said. "I tell them to get as many straight As as possible and go to college."

Mario Arrevalo, the son of CLF's first adopted family, told his story to the gathering and received a rousing round of applause.

"I was involved in drugs and gangs and a significant amount of trouble when I was 13," Arrevalo said. "Thanks to The Children's Lifesaving Foundation I graduated valedictorian from high school, graduated from college with honors and now own my own business. Maria and her family played a significant role and I am grateful for that."

CLF is primarily focused on family and is a family-run business. D'Angelo's children, Sean McCaffery and Francesca D'Angelo, were also on hand to thank the supporters for another successful year.

"We really want to see all these kids have a chance to get through college," Francesca D'Angelo said. "Through all our friends and contacts we really can make that happen."

Maria said the children often ask her if she is rich and her response is that she is rich in spirit and heart. She says she wants to instill in them all the same sense of hope she had when she came to this country from Naples at the age of 13.

"They teach us how to surf, we get to sleep in tents and they tell us stories," said 10-year-old Freda Avila, who seems to already have her future planned. "We go to the House of Blues for Thanksgiving and we get presents for Christmas. I want to thank CLF for helping me go to college to become a lawyer."

The gathering was also serenaded twice by CLF camper Carla Carillo who has been in the program for seven years. The high school junior sang a song to start the evening and one at the end of the night.

D'Angelo said CLF works with about 20 homeless shelters and will place at least two families in homes in the upcoming year. She said local school children also help by procuring thousands of toys and other items throughout the year.

"I've been coming to The Children's Lifesaving Foundation for the past five years," said 10-year-old Ernesto Gonzalez. "The first place I went was to the camp and it's still my favorite place. The camps help you learn about the outdoors. Sometimes we go up to the cabins and down the hill there's a farmer that lets us pet his animals."

The spring and summer camps will see 2,200 at-risk youth by year's end. The camp is located at Circle X Ranch in north Malibu. For more information on the organization or how to get involved, visit www.childrenslifesaving.org or phone 310.457.6166.

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