Yvonne Metcalf, Carrie Joyce, Diana Gairdner, Karen Pesci -- Assistant League Laguna Beach members behind the check-out counter at the Assistance League Turnabout Thrift Shop at 526 Glenneyre Street -- are ready to help the customers. (April 14, 2011)

Wednesday was Graduation Day at the Assistance League of Laguna Beach Chapter House.

Five babies were garbed in caps and gowns for the ceremony, which celebrated the completion of the Early Intervention Program, or EIP, for developmentally delayed infants up to a year old.

The EIP, which started 1976, is designed to provide group-based therapy for infants and hands-on training for parents.

"This is our signature program," said Carrie Joyce, chapter publicity chairwoman and retired assistant to the Laguna fire chiefs. "Doctors recommend our program to parents. We have a trained therapist and specialists who work with the children every week.

"And then between 11 a.m. and noon, league members rock the babies or walk with them while their parents meet with a therapist in a support group. All the money earned at the Turnabout Thrift Shop on Glenneyre Street is for the program, which is free, regardless of economic background."

However, membership is not free — they pay for the privilege of doing the chapter's good works or just financially supporting it.

Chapter voting members pay $55 in dues a year, plus a $15 fee. They commit to working in the Turnabout Shop twice a month and with the Early Intervention Program three times a year, bringing snacks or rocking the babies.

Sustaining members, who have been in the league for at least eight years, pay $65 in dues a year. They donate time only if they are so inclined.

Professional members, like Lee Kucera, also pay $65 a year, but they commit to working in the shop on the fifth Saturdays of the month. They also were in charge of selling the chapter's cookbook.

Associate members pay $100 a year, with no time commitment.

Traditionally, the majority of the group's philanthropic efforts are directed toward children, families in need and seniors.

Through the Hug-a-Bear program, the chapter provides teddy bears to the Laguna Beach Fire Department and the Laguna Beach Community Clinic to give to children in difficult situations.

Operation School Bell provides backpacks filled with school supplies and some clothing to several hundred students in the area, including participants in the Even Start Program in Laguna Beach. Jackets are given to the children in the fall.

The group joins with other chapters to serve needy school-aged children living on the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Children get to select two new school outfits, supplies, accessories and new shoes.

League members tutor Top of the World Elementary School students in the Reading Advantage Program and help out at the El Morro Elementary School book fairs.

The Therapeutic Riding Program funds participation for children with disabilities who attend the R H Dana Exceptional Needs Facility in Dana Point and sponsors a Shea Center horse, whose name is Bliss.

Many of the children who have been in EIP benefit from the riding program, Joyce said.

The chapter also funds special projects at the two elementary schools and Thurston Middle School, as well as awarding scholarships to a Laguna Beach High School student and a Saddleback College student who is pursuing a degree related to child development and/or education. Scholarships are also available for students returning to college to earn a degree in early childhood education.

Donations are gratefully accepted and tax deductible.

"Members put caring and commitment into action," Joyce said.