Travels around the world led Sheri Weller back home

| August 3, 2017 | 0 Comments


A professional public speaker, with a degree in business and broadcasting, Sheri Weller traveled 300 days a year during the days and later for Nissan and other company conventions and trade shows.

After the birth of her son, Teddy, now 5, she continued her life on the road, with her son and her own mom in tow, but she was becoming more and more drawn to her volunteer work at Wagon Wheel preschool. One day, while at her Hancock Park condo — in a historic French Normandy style building — Weller turned her sights across Melrose Ave. to Hollygrove, the Los Angeles organization founded in 1880.

“I had lived here for 20 years and I had never heard about that place,” she said of the former orphanage, Hollygrove, that once was home to a young Marilyn Monroe and occupied an entire block east of Vine, between Waring and Gregory avenues.

Today, the nonprofit social services agency, is part of Uplift Family Services and offers afterschool and summer programs for kids mostly living in gang-infested neighborhoods.

Three years ago, Weller and Hancock Park neighbor Julia Connolly plus Sarah McTeigue founded the Hollies, a 60-member-and-growing support arm of Hollygrove.

Weller also has joined the board and she chairs the annual spring gala. Fundraising, after all, “is in my blood,” says the former Miss Georgia USA and clogger. (Her sister runs the National Clogging and Hoedown Council).

Weller’s talents, honed in the small farming town where she grew up, (“clogging, cheering and community service” is what you did,) have come into good use at Hollygrove, where her involvement started when a parent asked her to help make baskets filled with goodies for the agency.

The two moms were dropping off the baskets when Weller asked about volunteering. When she was told that Hollygrove lost funding for a volunteer coordinator, she thought of the “many great families” she knew at Wagon Wheel. As she expected, her friends, and the community, have stepped up.

When the agency’s summer movie night was approaching, she reached out to Paramount Pictures for donation of a screen. Oinkster restaurant across the street served the food.

Weller “walked down Larchmont handing out flyers” to rally the neighbors to attend. This year’s community movie screening is planned for Sat., Sept. 30.

On another visit, Weller stumbled upon Hollygrove camp’s Olympic-theme day, and she was blown away by what she saw. The kids wore hand-made decorated T-shirts, walked in a procession of their chosen country and performed in field events.

“It was so overwhelming. These kids put so much work into this, and I was the only one to see it. I decided we needed to staff at least a day or two of the camps… even if we’re only holding the tape for them to run through.”

Initially there were about eight to 10 Hollies, and “the kids had a blast… everyone likes to be cheered on.”

Soon, parents were donating sunscreen, beach blankets and water. Someone set up an Amazon account to purchase supplies. “We needed 50 of everything, crayons to T-shirts.”

The last day of each camp week, the group heads to the beach, which for most of the kids is a first. One child remarked of the sand, the surf and the sea gulls, “’It smells exactly like I imagined.’”

Besides the weeklong camp offered for 50 children in the summer months, “Endless Summer,” serves 50, 5- to 12- year-olds three times a week during the school year.

In another program, volunteers serve meals and find speakers during the twice-a-week parent institute.

Most of the children are referred from local schools, Family Children Services or the police. They live in an area spanning Fairfax to Western avenues and Sunset to Wilshire boulevards, an area home to “eight very, very active gangs… A lot are working for gangs for $1,200 a week to sit on the corner” as police lookouts, says Weller.

Weller’s face brightens when she tells of the miracles that she’s encountered.

One boy came back at age 13, now sober, to say how Hollygrove turned his life around.

His father, after two prison terms, attended the parent program, aimed to break the cycle. “You parent how you were parented,” Weller explains.

She’s preparing for her son’s entry into St. James’ elementary in the fall. Her earlier life, when she acted in commercials and soap operas is a distant memory. But it was on the set of a movie 21 years ago where she met her husband, producer/director Peter Weller.

Now she travels to meet up with him on location — they never like to be more than two weeks apart as a family. But otherwise “I’ve got this whole community here,” she smiles.

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Category: People

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