It is easy nowadays to throw around the word hero.
There are YouTube hero channels, animal heroes, superheroes of all colors — the list is endless.
But have you ever heard of heroes for thinkers? There is such a thing in Laguna Beach.
The My Hero Project is a nonprofit started in 1995 that is trying to change the world through stories about heroes.
Using film and technology, it is the PBS of heroism, believing that collaboration, mentorship and inspiration can go a long way toward improving our lives, especially for children.
"The real goal of our project is to provide positive role models," said Wendy Milette, director of media arts education and film festivals. "It's interesting to note the ripple effect that comes with a focus on heroism."
Last week the group hosted a "Hero Fest," highlighting local heroes who have made a difference. Held at [seven-degrees], it showed several videos, such as one on Jackie Reed, a former Laguna Beach lifeguard who went on to USC, helped children in Guatamala and became a civil engineer specializing in water quality.
"Jackie Reed is clearly a role model, and for the kids in the audience who see her story, for all we know someone will be inspired," Milette said. "Those are the types of possibilities that can come from the movies and the heroes."
The group, founded by Jeanne Meyers, Karen Pritzker and Rita Stern, is closely aligned with school groups and "uses media and technology to celebrate the best of humanity and empower people of all ages to realize their own potential to effect positive change."
The results are far and wide.
"Whether they are inspired to continue protecting wilderness in the footsteps of James Dilley, or whether they are inspired to work for peace like Jeanie Bernstein, or whether they are inspired to go into school and become educated in a field where they can help with complicated systems of engineering, the possibilities for inspiration are numerous," Milette said.
The website, myhero.com has an impressive list of heroes that spans the world.
From Pakistan and Uzbekistan to Senegal and Zimbabwe, educators and other leaders have picked up the program to help raise awareness for a variety of issues.
"The website itself is a source of inspiration and study," Milette said. "We try to elevate the content because right now, with kids of the world today, everyone is using technology. There's computers and there's cell phones and there's cameras.
"But what are they making? You cruise YouTube in general and what is the level of the content? What we're trying to offer is to elevate this content into something positive and meaningful that can have a ripple effect."
These ripples do cost money, which is an unfortunate reality for nonprofit groups.
"That is something we are continually up against. It is challenging," she said.
The group is perpetually seeking grant money and has managed to get funding in the past from the U.S. State Department, California Arts Commission, the city of Laguna Beach and other groups.
In the meantime, they press forward with various programs, such as a recent one with the Laguna Beach Boys & Girls Club, showcasing the environment. One fourth-grade girl decided to take action.
" [She] was so motivated and wanted to be a hero herself, and she — on her own accord — had a bake sale to raise money for the SPCA. And to me, that's it in a nutshell. She was empowered to make a difference," Milette said.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.