Our Neighbors—Doctors, Teachers, Parents—Share Personal Stories of Struggle, Fear, Learning, Love and, Yes, Hope

Southbay Strong.

  • Category
    People
  • Curated by
    Diane E. Barber, Darren Elms & Tanya Monaghan
  • Above
    Adnen & Lenora Marouani   |   Photographed by Shane O'Donnell

“We have faced many setbacks on our small-business journey, but this one is hitting pretty hard. That place of uncertainty is a tough place to sit in for such a long stretch of time, but we are working our absolute hardest to ensure that our businesses survive from this crisis.

What we’ve realized is that many things are out of our control, but what we can control is our reaction and actions to life’s setbacks. Due to our restaurant and tasting room closures, we had to adapt quickly and be creative.

For our Hermosa Beach restaurant, we created a family-style, comfort-food menu featuring curbside pickup and free delivery services. During these unsettling times, we need comfort more than ever, so we’re featuring foods such as chicken pot pie, meatloaf and fried chicken.

For our Manhattan Beach location, we’re focusing on curbside pickup and free delivery for our wine and cheese shop. We’re also taking all of the health and safety measures necessary at both locations to keep our customers and staff safe.

It’s times like this that bring us closer to our loved ones and make us more grateful for our community and their support. We’re also deeply inspired by local businesses fighting for their livelihood by using their creativity and resources to the fullest. We’re all in this fight together. We’re fighting for our families, our employees, our community.

We’re also doing an outreach to restaurant workers hit hard by the shutdowns, offering free meals to them and their families. They can email or call us to reserve a meal. We’re only as good as our community. We help ourselves by helping others. Not only do we want to provide good food but also provide hope that things will get better—by pushing through one day at a time.”


Lenora Marouani, Manhattan Beach
Restaurateur

Dr. Antonio Bonet

“This pandemic has turned our lives upside down in a matter of weeks. People are scared, some have lost their jobs, some have gotten sick and some have died or lost their loved ones to this virus. Nothing positive can be said about the situation the world is enduring at this moment in history.

Health care workers of all disciplines, however, have stepped up their efforts to care for people in their communities in all available health care settings: hospitals, urgent care centers, clinics and even in their own homes, with the help of technology and remote monitoring. The creative and enthusiastic attitude of individuals in the health care and public health spheres has been impressive and inspiring.

As a critical care physician at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, I treat the sickest hospitalized patients, who often need support devices like ventilators, dialysis and medications that stabilize one’s blood pressure. Needless to say, we all are experiencing different levels of anxiety as we worry about our patients, our families and ourselves. However, the positivity in our ICU is palpable and has become a source of energy and hope that we will get through this pandemic together and return to our normal lives.

The dedication and tirelessness of every single member of the critical care team at Providence has already paid off. Last week we were able to successfully remove the ventilator from a patient suffering from severe COVID-19 pneumonia. He had required mechanical respiratory support for about a week. This event, although otherwise routine, represents countless hours of coordinated teamwork, dedication and hope.

In these times of despair, I could not ask for a more caring, humane and inspiring team. We will continue to fight for the health of all members of our community. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and together we will make it through this crisis.”


Antonio Bonet, MD, Rancho Palos Verdes
Medical Director of Intensive Care Unit

Julia Cho and Connor

“In a matter of three days, the comfort of teaching in my classroom to a group of curious and joyful fifth graders disappeared. Pivoting the structure of the classroom and our curriculum overnight challenged all of us. How do we teach in a way that engages our students? How do we translate our rigorous and robust classroom curriculum to an uncharted online platform?

We can’t substitute new tools and do the same exact activity. Those rich, spontaneous, deep conversations amongst my students simply won’t work on a discussion board. The swift shift and upheaval to move everything online demanded even more from teachers.

Teaching is a tireless job that did not end at the 3:15 p.m. dismissal bell. It’s even more demanding now. We are planning late into the night, our daytimes filled with meetings and answering student and parent questions. There are no more weekends and time with our families.

The transition was just as tough for our students. There is no way to fully anticipate our students’ questions and confusion. There is new technology to learn, they miss their friends, all while trying to adapt to a new environment. How do we do right by these kids? What more can we do? How do we do this and still take care of our own family?

We are now completing our second week of remote teaching, and although still challenging, we are slowly finding our groove and establishing a new routine. ‘Live and learn!’ I say to myself as each day feels a bit more successful than the last.

Regardless of my focus on curriculum, our students’ desire for community and interaction cannot be replaced online. They want to feel safe and feel some sense of normalcy. They want to feel validated and acknowledged. They needed grace and compassion.

As a teacher, it is moments like this that open communication. Calm and presence are most essential for my students. Thank goodness for Zoom!

Although the current situation is far from ideal, it presents a time for some reflection. I often find myself wondering when the virus starts to dissipate, what can we learn from this experience? I may not know the answer yet, but more than ever I am reminded how interconnected we all are. How much we need and rely on one another.

I am more cognizant of and grateful for the little things: getting to see my students every day, healthy and smiling; a kind acknowledgment from supportive families; walks in my beautiful neighborhood. Everywhere I go there are signs affirming, ‘We are all in this together’ and ‘Stronger together.’ In this time of mandated isolation, the power of human connection has strengthened, and I’ve never seen a greater rise in humanity.” 


Julia Cho, Manhattan Beach
Fifth Grade Teacher, Chadwick School

Kate, AJ and Mackenzie Lester

“This entire situation has been so eye-opening for me—not only as an entrepreneur, wife and mother, but also as a daughter, friend and interior designer. I’ve learned that I am strong, I am resilient and I am adaptable.

I’ve been using this opportunity to revisit my entire business model and reflect on how it is structured. I see the value in everyone in our community supporting small businesses, but I also see value in self-reflection and adaptability when you are a small business faced with a challenge. I have learned that I have always worked hard, but when things get tough I work harder, and my family understands that.

I found to be true what I have always known: that my husband will be my biggest support system. As a captain and PIO for the L.A. County Lifeguards, an international pandemic puts him on the front lines. He and his colleagues are protecting and serving, and then he comes home and helps with my design business or the retail store in any way he can.

During this time, I have also been reminded that people are mostly good and that our amazing community will come together like we’ve never seen to support each other when times are tough. It’s times like this that remind you who you really are—why you started your company and what you will sacrifice to keep it.

I have learned that I was never built to be a teacher or a stay-at-home mom, but I am cherishing every moment of quarantine time because being successful means that I usually work more than I am home. What is this whole experience teaching me, and what kind of example have I been to my daughter? Did she understand when we grocery shopped for the elderly or bought coffee for first responders? Is she watching me persevere—and not just when it’s easy? Is she proud?

I am trying to see the good and the lessons. When we come out the other end, I hope that we will have learned about being more responsible inhabitants of this planet and community and better humans to each other.”


Kate Lester, Hermosa Beach
Interior Designer
Above: Pastor Billy Heather

“I don’t think anyone was expecting things to get like this. As pastors in the South Bay, my wife and I are not strangers to life-altering moments. We’ve led through periods of shock and confusion, we’ve celebrated and we’ve grieved, we’ve married and we’ve buried—all while trying to find beauty in the midst of every situation.

But something like this, we never imagined. No matter what walk of life you come from, this crisis has affected us all. Physically, financially, emotionally … we’ve all been spent.

Like many, we were first afraid and anxious, then concerned for our families and our community. But after the first few weeks that stay-at-home orders were in effect, we also sensed how good this time could be. It became not something we should fear but an opportunity to become the message that we’ve always said we believe.

Crisis has a way of purifying our hearts. It lets us know it’s okay to be vulnerable and share our story with others. It’s through the pain and grief and discomfort that we are refined. It’s through community that we realize we’re not alone. We can get through some things on our own. But together, we can get through anything.

Our pastors, who are from the South Bay, envisioned a place where people could take one step at a time. Where people can be met where they are and led to their destiny. That’s the mission. Mission statements don’t change in crisis, but methods do.

Regardless of what people believe, there is a deep need in every human being to be known and loved. As COVID-19 became a reality, we just kept loving people. We reached out to our hospitals, grocery stores and first responders. As expected, our efforts were not alone. Throughout the community, people have united and stood together—choosing to stand strong and find meaning that’s bigger than themselves.

We will get through this. And although we might slow down our schedules, we’re only expanding our love and compassion for each other. What if the most valuable thing in this season is the chance to be present? Present to people who have always been there. Present to the moment. Present to our communities and the needs of those around us.

This moment may be waiting time. But together we can ensure it’s not wasted time.”


Pastor Billy Heather, Torrance
Destiny South Bay

Bryce Toney, Andrew Gawdun and Willow

“We are going to be perfectly honest. This sucks! Why beat around the bush? But guess what? It doesn’t have to ruin your day, month, year or life!

When you run a small business, you try to think of the challenges you might have and how to prepare for them. But there’s always some pesky trial out there you don’t plan for. Enter COVID-19.

We started this year better than ever. We were entering our 11th year as a small pop-and-pop shop in Hermosa Beach. We just completed some light renovations and some killer product ordering for the upcoming spring and summer seasons to elevate our shop. We even managed to have an equally successful start to the year at our even newer location on the island of Kauai. To say we were elated at all of this was, and is, an understatement.

When COVID-19 began to hit the U.S., we expected—like most of us—that this would be a blip in the year. But things kept changing so rapidly that we were faced with the decision to close temporarily to help slow the spread. Yeah, it sucked. And from time to time, it still does. After a few glasses of tequila we said, ‘What can we do?’

Our shop curious… has a reputation in the community to amuse and make people laugh when they come in. What came from that knowledge is the curious… Joke Hotline. Anyone can call Bryce or me directly and have a new joke told every day that we are in this pickle. Plus, now that we’re dads, we have an excuse to tell terrible dad jokes!

We’ve met some really great people who call every day. We have also created the curious… Story Time. This month we are reading a Dolly Parton biography from the early ’90s live on Instagram. Bryce has taken his skills of furniture building and began filming small projects around the house that can be built. And of course we started an online version of our store.

But most importantly, we have slowed down 80% from where we were at the start of the year. Our daughter couldn’t be happier having us both home 24/7, even if she doesn’t understand why. We don’t want to lose what has been built, but being home with nowhere to go has really made us remember why we love each other and our little lady.”


Andrew Gawdun, Hermosa Beach
Boutique Owner
Above: Dr. Bobby Massoudian and family

“If I stop and think, it’s almost unbelievable—so I try not to stop for too long. Just weeks ago our biggest problem was who could be at the boys’ Little League practice and who could pick them up from a game to get them to a birthday party. Now I think about how I can distribute physicians to disaster tents with self-contained respirators and how long the batteries on those respirators can last.

My wife has been amazing about keeping the boys’ lives normal. If it was up to me, they would just watch Netflix 24/7. (We are all being honest with each other here, right?) I haven’t seen my parents in Palos Verdes for a month and know that I will not be seeing them for a couple more. My mom voices her worry. My dad—who is a physician—is very quiet, and his worry is unspoken between us.

Our friends have supported us in amazing ways. We are never more than a few minutes away from someone asking us how we are doing. The emergency medicine doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, techs and staff I work with know we are being sent in to deal with a situation that we cannot imagine would ever actually happen, but it has happened and we have to deal with it.

Every time I walk outside and see people walking around, there is a part of me that realizes they are just as stir-crazy as us from being inside. I know they are trying the best they can, but people playing basketball at Live Oak or taking group pictures at the beach make me mad in a way I wish I would not be.

We are on multiple online chats with groups of friends—some physicians, some old college friends, some childhood friends, some children’s parents we know. The friends’ chats are full of encouragement and questions, while the physicians’ chats vary between medical info, dark humor and barely masked fear. I’ve been accused of being an optimist against the tide at times—a quality I appreciate about myself right now.”


Bobby Massoudian, MD, MS
Manhattan Beach

Captain Andrew Olvera

“Those of us who are first responders are confronted with this pandemic in the field every day, and it is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Seeing a typically healthy middle-aged person, for example, unable to walk, coughing with every breath and barely able to speak is a stark reality check.

As challenging as it is though, this is what we do: We help people at their worst moments. Probably the most difficult part of it is looking into the eyes of loved ones knowing that this may be one of the last times they have any personal contact with the person we are helping. The holding of a hand or caressing of a face when loading a patient into an ambulance resonates deeply.

In fire service we perform many dangerous acts and are equipped with the necessary safety gear and training that we need for every situation. In the beginning we unknowingly took excessive risk. But, as with every disaster and major event, we adapt, change policy and create new protocol.

We have dispatchers prescreening, field personnel putting on extra protective equipment and we are minimizing patient contact. To date, when all procedures have been followed and proper equipment worn, we have not had any personnel convert to positive when in contact with known COVID-19 patients. That, for us, is good short-term news, but we know this is a long-term fight with many unknowns.

My appreciation for our ambulance attendants and hospital personnel is greater than ever now. A firefighter’s contact with the sickest people is temporary. But travel in a confined ambulance and hands-on hospital care is a true testament to those who choose to weather the worst in a vocation to help. Their exposure and selfless dedication should be acknowledged, as very few witness what they do.

On a personal note, I realized in the midst of this that my own home and family disaster supplies needed some modifications. I hope everyone will take a look at what their recent consumptions and minimal needs have been and adjust accordingly.

I greatly appreciate seeing people step aside to let others pass, masks being worn by all ages and minimal outings. My heart goes out to all who have been directly and indirectly affected by the virus. We will get through this together. Stay safe and remain prepared.”


Captain Andrew Olvera, Rancho Palos Verdes
Los Angeles County Fire Department, Station 53

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