By Allison Hata | Contributor


Raising a child is no solo act. From basic needs, such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care, to positive role models and creative play, children need many different forms of support to thrive. 


Recognizing that kids are society’s greatest asset, an Orange County-based foundation was formed. The first Festival of Children event was held at South Coast Plaza in September 2002, and the organization has since grown to impact around 37 million kids nationwide. 


Two decades later, the organization continues to give hundreds of youth-focused nonprofits a platform during National Child Awareness Month every September. Throughout the month, nonprofits join together to educate the community, fundraise, recruit volunteers and collaborate to create the greatest possible impact for kids. 


This year, celebrate National Child Awareness Month by getting to know five Festival of Children member organizations doing big things in 2022, and learn how you can make a difference as a community volunteer. 


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Photo credit courtesy of Beyond Blindness

For this organization that’s served Orange County children with visual impairments since 1962, it was time for a bold new direction. Formerly the Blind Children’s Learning Center, Beyond Blindness is celebrating 60 years in 2022 with a brand transformation, including a new name and logo revealed at its first-ever hybrid fundraiser last year. The major milestone and name change also signaled an evolution for the nonprofit, which has expanded to serve a wider population of children with other disabilities and their families. Through programs focused on early intervention, education and enrichment, and family support, Beyond Blindness offers services like counseling, inclusive family events, low vision clinics, and transitional and individualized education plan support to children ages 0 to 22. 


How to get involved: Beyond Blindness volunteers can lend a hand in the classroom or assist with administrative tasks at the Santa Ana headquarters. Several special events throughout the year also require volunteer support, including the annual dining in the dark gala, golf tournament, and Destination Independence Walk + Family Fair. 



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Photo credit courtesy of Girls, Inc. of Orange County

As part of its effort to launch more girls into leadership roles, the Santa Ana-based Girls Inc. rolled out a new program in 2022 called Project Accelerate. Serving young women who are in college or recent high school graduates, it’s an extension of the nonprofit’s teen mentorship program with the goal of shaping the future workforce in Orange County. The first cohort launches this fall, with a group of around 30 professional women who have stepped up to guide first-year college students through the earliest phase of their career journeys. Young women will attend career panels and networking events, participate in informational interviews and office tours, and spend time one-on-one with mentors to receive coaching on topics like office culture and navigating barriers to leadership. 


How to get involved: While the Project Accelerate pilot has already launched, Girls Inc. needs volunteers for other programs like Literacy Lab, College Bound Grad Lab, and SupHERvision, which offers an extra layer of motivational support for girls to promote academic participation and accountability.



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Photo credit courtesy of Orangewood Foundation

After a decade-long, four-phase capital campaign and years of construction, Orangewood Foundation’s Samueli Academy celebrated the completion of its 7.1-acre campus this spring. A new gymnasium and soccer field round out the final improvements to the innovative public charter school, which serves students in the community in addition to providing foster youth an opportunity to achieve better educational outcomes. Through Orangewood Foundation’s Youth Community Program, students in foster care can participate in a hybrid residential model, where they live on-campus in college-style suites during the school week and with their foster families on weekends. This model helps minimize the challenges kids face when their foster placement changes, giving them stability in both their academic and living experiences so they can excel in school and beyond. 


How to get involved: Orangewood Foundation is always in need of qualified resource families for its programs, including the Youth Connected Program where parents will provide a home for foster youth on weekends and during school breaks and holidays. You can also make a difference as a Samueli Academy mentor or lend your professional expertise to students participating in a career-focused, work-based learning program.



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Photo credit courtesy of Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Orange County’s only marine mammal rescue center welcomed a new CEO in May, with retired bank exec Glenn Gray tapped to run the Laguna Beach nonprofit. It was also recently named the No. 1 STEM educator and the best place to take kids in Orange County by Kids Out and About. While rescue, rehabilitation, and release are cornerstones of the organization, its mission is also advanced by educating the next generation about marine science and conservation. More than 10,000 children each year participate in distance and on-site programs that include research labs for teens and field trips covering topics that range from pollution solutions to marine mammal sensory systems. There are also a variety of free programs for underserved children in the community, as well as children’s hospitals. The center’s educational facilities will be undergoing a significant expansion next year, bringing its ocean stewardship programs to even more kids in 2023. 


How to get involved: In addition to adult volunteer roles, Pacific Marine Mammal Center has a robust teen volunteer program for youth ages 14 to 17. Among the opportunities is a chance to serve as a junior education instructor, which includes preparing teaching materials and facilitating fun activities for younger campers. 



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Photo credit courtesy of Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center

With a goal of creating more access to the arts for youth from economically challenged parts of the community, Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center (OCCTAC) offers several multicultural programs for all ages and differing abilities, from early start options as young as six months to family mentoring support for those who have a child with a disability. This year, thanks to the Festival of Children Foundation, a group of students from the organization’s Preparatory Arts Academy had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play alongside international recording and touring artists El Santo Golpe at Gold Pacific Studios. It was the culmination of a year-long project featuring 14 special needs and typical students, two teachers, and lead vocalist Ulises Rodriguez from El Santo Golpe. The original song they recorded, “El Mundo Entero,” will be featured as one of OCCTAC’s featured ensemble performances at Festival of Children, as well as released on music streaming services later this year. 


How to get involved: Whether you’re creatively inclined or just have a passion for the arts, there’s an opportunity for you at OCCTAC. Volunteers from all backgrounds are invited to lend a hand with roles that include events and engagement activity support for the community outreach team, tutoring transitional-age youth, leading early start activities for students, and assisting teachers at the Preparatory Arts Academy.