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Jonas Corona was only 4 years old when he started volunteering with his family on Skid Row, but the moment that truly set him on a path of service happened when he was 6.
For the first time, he came across a child around his age experiencing homelessness, an encounter that broke his heart.
“That really just lit the fire inside me to want to give back as much as possible,” said Corona, now 18.
But when Corona went to local shelters to see about volunteering, he was turned away due to his age.
Refusing to take no for an answer, he turned his attention toward creating a nonprofit organization of his own, Love in the Mirror, that encourages youth-led volunteering and community service.
Twelve years later, the organization has served thousands of people, through various fundraisers and initiatives that any age group can participate in, such as the Peanut Butter and Jelly Time event that has contributed over 60,000 sandwiches to shelters.
Starting a nonprofit at the age of 6 is no easy feat, but with the support of family members and now a dedicated team as the organization has grown, Love in the Mirror is able to support several fundraisers and events each year, including a hygiene item drive, a school supply drive, a sock drive and food drives.
Corona’s favorite event, however, is the annual toy giveaway, which prior to the pandemic, would include a room filled with thousands of toys that children, accompanied by children volunteers, could select from.
“That was the best thing, to see the smile on the kid’s face when they walk through the door,” said Corona.
Although the fundraiser had to be converted to a drive-thru event due to the pandemic, last December, over 1,000 toys were distributed to around 350 families.
Apart from providing direct aid to the community, Corona is looking forward to Love in the Mirror’s newest initiative, Project G.I.V.E., or, “Grow, Inspire, Volunteer, Educate,” a community-service-based curriculum teaching young kids how they can volunteer.
Project G.I.V.E. will begin this fall as a pilot program in three Long Beach schools and one Lynwood school, Corona said.
“I can’t wait to do that, because it’s everything that I advocate for,” he said.
The curriculum emphasizes “planting the seed early,” initially focusing on elementary schoolers, although it can be adapted for all grade levels, Corona said.
Activities will include simple ways to contribute to the greater good, such as one of Love in the Mirror’s favorite activities, messages of hope, where students write positive messages on blank postcards that will then be included in hygiene kits and care packages that the organization distributes.
“Really our goal when we have events and volunteer opportunities is to make it a fun environment for the kids, so they can want to do it again,” he said.
To Corona, kids are the next generation of changemakers, and he hopes to continue spreading the message that anyone can volunteer if they really want to.
“I want to make sure that (kids) get a chance to volunteer because when I was six, and they told me no, I know most people would … just wait and maybe lose that passion to want to give back,” said Corona. “I want to make sure that that never happens.”