Larry Bender first came to the City of Hawthorne, a pocket of Los Angeles County dense with both residents and crime, in 1985 when he was hired by the city to work at the local cable channel. His initial tour of Hawthorne included a stop at the Richstone Family Center (for child abuse treatment and prevention), which sparked his 15-year commitment to volunteerism.
Bender’s involvement with Richstone started as a result of his work with the cable channel, getting the word out about community services offered by the Center such as counseling, supervised visitation, parenting classes, after-school programs, and holiday parties. His crews taped interviews or events to help publicize Richstone, which Bender calls the “oasis” in this desert.
An active volunteer for Richstone’s programs, Bender later joined Hawthorne Rotary. Veteran Rotarians placed him in charge of the Interact Club, a collaborative between Hawthorne High School and Rotary #740. More than 50 languages are spoken at Hawthorne High, designated a Title I High School because of the students’ low test scores. Students interested in volunteering come together each Tuesday morning for Interact Club meetings with Bender. They volunteer in the community, and help at every Richstone event. Bender’s students are all at-risk themselves, and the positive intervention is supplying a pressing community need. Bender’s guidance converts them into mentors and role models for others.
Students interested in community volunteerism come together each Tuesday at lunch for their weekly Interact Meeting where they plan the participation for upcoming community events. The Interact Club students are eager to do hands-on projects and their positive involvement is supply a pressing community need. Bender’s guidance converts his 40-50 Interacters into mentors and role models for at-risk youth.
At every Richstone event, from neighborhood arts and crafts days to elegant fundraisers, Bender’s presence is felt. He directs Hawthorne Cable camera crews and his Hawthorne High School Interacters simultaneously. He helps with the set-up of the center for special events and is there at the end of the day to pitch-in with the clean-up. Finally, after a meaningful day spent helping Richstone’s abused children, Bender arranges the transportation so all of the teenage Interacters will return home safely.
In 1993, Bender began mentoring two Richstone boys in the after-school program. After tutoring sessions, the three would head straight for the basketball court. Fred, an African-American boy living with his aunt and six other children, and Nick, a Caucasian boy living with his grandmother and younger brother, might otherwise never have befriended each other. Yet, through their four-year relationship with Bender, the two carried their friendship with them beyond the boundaries of the Center.
On one particular occasion, Richstone’s Executive Director, Dorothy Courtney, received a last-minute request to show an informational video on Richstone at a charity event. She called Bender for assistance. With the help of his talented staff, they rushed over to tape the segment and were able to return to Richstone the next morning with the edited copy. In innovative and hands-on-ways like this, Bender continually offers his talents to Richstone. For the Richstone Family Center, Bender has impacted the lives of two decades of staff, volunteers, and most importantly, children.
Bender credits the Richstone Center’s staff for doing the heavy-duty work of peeling away the layers of abuse and neglect and helping the children and parents begin the healing process. According to Bender, “the Richstone Family Center is like a ‘magic castle’ – a place awash in love, caring, sharing, positive vibrations, and a strong sense of mission. It’s a sanctuary for the Richstone Kids.”