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Birch Aquarium Brings Virtual Learning to Schools

Plus, UC San Diego opens a milk bank, San Diego Rescue Mission launches an outreach initiative, and more

By Sarah Sapeda

Birch Aquarium is offering 600 free virtual programs to Title I schools in San Diego to help offset the loss of learning caused by the pandemic. Using donor funding, the aquarium was able to convert its Next Generation Science Standards–aligned Discovery Lab programs into 30- and 45-minute virtual courses for students in pre-K through high school. Aquarium instructors lead the lessons and encourage students to ask questions and virtually interact with ocean creatures.

“Most school districts anticipate using a virtual or blended learning environment for the remainder of the school year, and unfortunately, those who are most adversely affected by this are students attending Title I schools,” said Director of Education Megan Malaska Medley. “Birch Aquarium believes that all students should have equitable access to STEM learning opportunities, and we are so thankful to have financial aid available to ensure that every student is able to connect to the wonders of the ocean, even during this significant learning shift.”

Scholarships for free virtual programs are available here. Schools in City Heights and surrounding areas are also eligible for funding through the Price Philanthropies Ocean Science Education Fund.

Good News / Milk Bank

UC Health and UC San Diego’s milk bank is the first of its kind in the city.

UC San Diego and University of California Health have launched a nonprofit milk bank within the San Diego Blood Bank to serve Southern California families in need. When mothers of sick or premature babies can’t produce a sufficient milk supply for their baby’s nutritional needs, they turn to donated milk.

“A significant percentage of NICUs in our state are still not using donor milk despite more than a decade of scientific evidence regarding the important benefits to the smallest infants,” said Lisa Stellwagen, MD, executive director of the milk bank. “We aim to address these shortages and disparities in donor milk use in our region.”

The University of California Health Milk Bank is the first of its kind in San Diego and one of only 30 nonprofit milk banks in North America.

Those who have 100 ounces or more of extra frozen milk are welcome to contribute. Donors must complete a questionnaire and are tested before donation; the milk is also tested and processed.

The San Diego Rescue Mission plans to use a $100,000 grant from the Lucky Duck Foundation to launch a new homeless outreach initiative called Walk With Me. The effort entails leveraging partnerships with local churches, service providers, and volunteers to develop unique one-on-one relationships with individuals living on the streets, build trust, and connect them to available resources.

“Our hope is that all of our vulnerable friends experiencing homelessness can feel valued, loved, and seen just as God sees them,” said Donnie Dee, CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission.

The Rescue Mission is currently recruiting volunteers, who will be provided training prior to starting their “Journey of Relationship.” Volunteers are required to commit five to seven hours a month for at least a year. The online training will be offered starting in January, with relationship pairings made shortly thereafter.

For more information and to sign up, visit

Home Start recently hosted a virtual version of its popular Hallo-Wine Fall Festival and raised more than $38,000. Guests were able to support Home Start’s mission of preventing child abuse while noshing on a to-go sampling from Burgeon Beer Company, Panini Kabob, Trevi Hills Winery, The University Club atop Symphony Towers, and more. They were also treated to an afternoon of learning about locally crafted cider, wine, beer, and specialty cocktails from Home Start’s vendor partners, and answered trivia questions for chances to win prizes.

“Now, more than ever, families are struggling and need additional resources to survive. Every dollar raised from our event will help Home Start serve victims of domestic violence and provide services to local families affected by COVID-19,” said Home Start CEO Laura Tancredi-Baese.

Kara Lu, Matt Arrollado, and Dave Tabor lead a virtual program. Photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium.

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