La Jolla is known as “Jewel of the Sea.” Not only does La Jolla offer a beautiful coastline, it is also home to several beautiful gems whose mission is to give back to the community. These individuals work hard with passion and determination to make La Jolla and the world a better place. La Jolla Lifestyle spoke to three local, unique and inspiring women about the ways they are making a difference: Stephanie Coolidge of La Jolla Veterinary Hospital and director of Paws and Pints; Colleen Royal, board member of the La Jolla Elementary Fundraising Foundation and the La Jolla Open Aire Market; and Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, a lawyer, entrepreneur and activist.

Colleen Royal, La Jolla Open Aire Market Operations & Marketing

How did you get involved with what you do?

I became involved with the La Jolla Elementary School Foundation thanks to a few special and inspiring friends who encouraged me to join the foundation which raises money to fund additional teachers, enrichment programs, educational materials and campus improvements not funded by the San Diego Unified School District.

What inspires you?

Our school’s largest fundraiser, the La Jolla Open Aire Market, celebrates its 20-year anniversary. I’m inspired by our hard-working farmers and by our customers who support them, rain or shine. I’m inspired by our LJES principal, Donna Tripi, for her support of our market and her tireless effort in making our school one of the very best and by our market founder, Sherry Ahern. Without Sherry, there simply would not be a successful farmers market in our neighborhood. We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy such an amazing market each and every Sunday!

What is the most rewarding thing about giving back?

We have so many parent volunteers at La Jolla Elementary. The moment you step onto our campus, you can feel how very special it is, and it is incredibly rewarding for us all to see the results of everyone’s hard work and support. Each and every child can thrive and succeed in a happy environment. I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding as a parent!

Stephanie Coolidge, hospital administrator, La Jolla Veterinary Hospital; director, Paws and Pints La Jolla; advisory committee, FACE Foundation

How did you get involved with what you do?

While working at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital I met Peggy Howell, the founder of FOCAS (Friends of County Animal Shelters.) With her encouragement, I started fostering and volunteering for the 20-year-old La Jolla-based rescue group. She changed my life. I never imagined myself in the animal industry as I was working at the veterinary hospital through culinary school. Meeting her at the right time changed everything. Over breakfast at Harry’s Coffee Shop, I made a promise to Peggy; we would keep FOCAS in La Jolla. The Rancho Coastal Humane Society was taking over the administration of the La Jolla-based program, and she was worried the community would lose their beloved and local animal-rescue resource. I became obsessed with doing as much as I possibly could to keep FOCAS in La Jolla as the transition took place. The idea of a La Jolla fundraiser for FOCAS was born, and after our fifth year, we have raised more than $100,000 for the animals and always in honor of Peggy, who passed away in 2011. I am now on the board for other rescue groups in San Diego County and on the advisory committee for the FACE Foundation.

What inspires you?

Animal-rescue volunteers and all of the individuals who have selflessly supported us, especially over the last five years at Paws and Pints La Jolla. This community is more gracious and giving than one can ever put into words. La Jollans love animals and they ever cease to amaze me. The local businesses, members of the La Jolla community, and of course our clients at La Jolla Veterinary Hospital who work right alongside us during Paws and Pints La Jolla every year. As much as I love animals, humans are still the most inspiring species to me. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful. For all the love we have for the innocent and beautiful creatures that dogs and cats are, they don’t pay their own medical bills or walk themselves through the door of a humane society or veterinary hospital. Humans do.  People that are in it for no glory, recognition or any mutual benefits. Just for the genuine love of animals.

What is the most rewarding thing you do?

Watching Paws and Pints La Jolla grow has been mind-blowing. From a small fundraiser in 2014 with only about 200 attendees to becoming La Jolla’s largest animal fundraiser is still surreal to me. More and more animals will be saved, and La Jolla now has a new generation of animal-welfare philanthropists. A more humbling reward is being able to keep our promise to Peggy. We still march in the La Jolla Parade, flying the FOCAS flag as she did for more than 20 years with her children and grandchildren. We get to show all of the La Jollans who supported FOCAS for more than 30 years that their work was not in vain. The effects of their hard work and dedication to maintaining an animal-rescue group founded by La Jollans is now a legacy that has no end in sight. We also host smaller events throughout the year, and we have absolutely kept our promise to Peggy. That still gets me choked up a bit. It’s amazing what one person can do.     

Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, lawyer, entrepreneur and activist

How did you get involved with what you do?

In 2008, I took a sabbatical from practicing law and went to Sonoma County to live and work on a goat farm. I was moved by that community’s overriding support for local, sustainable food production and consumption, and I became more aware of the need for engagement in the local/sustainable/regenerative Ag movement. It seemed to me, that San Diego, with its abundant agricultural resources, didn’t have the same food-community integration I saw there—at least not on the same scale, which considering that we are the “farmiest” community in the U.S. seemed odd to me—so I decided to launch Berry Good Night in 2010. The idea was to help create more cohesion and foster new relationships among farmers, chefs, food activists and food writers. Over the years, the dinner received so much support from the community that, in 2015, we formed a nonprofit arm of the movement, the Berry Good Food Foundation.

What inspires you?

The people who grow, raise, catch and create the amazing local bounty we enjoy here in this fertile bioregion that extends from Oceanside to Baja inspire me at each every encounter.  

What is the most rewarding thing you do?

I enjoy creating connections within our community and fostering dialogue on a variety of topics related to food, health, community and the environment—something I am deeply passionate about—through our Future Thought Leader program, a series of educational panels including Reimagining Food Waste and Food is Medicine, among others. At BGFF we also do this through our school garden programming (now on both sides of the border) and community cooking classes, featuring local farmers and chefs to emphasize the importance of relationships and knowing where your food comes from.