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The Tides That Bind: Community Pulls Together to Aid the Roundhouse

From lemonade stands to silent auctions, local efforts raise funds to keep the facility and its programs afloat.

Thanks to community help, the  has cleared a first-quarter hurdle and raised $30,000 toward a projected $100,000 budget deficit for its fiscal year 2010-2011, which covers September through August. Fortunately, that $30,000 means that this January the facility won't have to charge an admission fee, cut back on its public open hours, or reduce the number of classes taught.

"'Thanksgiving Story' would be a good title for an article on what has happened so far. We never knew how much people cared about Roundhouse until now," Dick Fruin, a member of the Roundhouse board, told Patch.

So far, the call for money is being answered and many have opened their hearts, minds, doors and wallets to the Roundhouse's plight.

The board's goal is to raise $25,000 in each of the three remaining quarters and to build sustainable funding for the facility, instead of relying solely on grants and corporate sponsorships.

To continue its fundraising efforts, the Roundhouse is holding a Winter Carnival on site Saturday, Dec. 16 and Sunday, Dec. 17, 10 a.m. to sunset. Admission to the Roundhouse is free. Tickets for carnival games, crafts and activities cost $1 for 3 tickets and each activity takes one to three tickets.

Visitors who'd like to buy an ornament for the donated living Christmas tree have a choice of three sea animals, each particular creature costing $5, $10, or $20. You can sign your name on your ornament, which will remain on the tree until Dec. 31. The fundraising ornament idea came to light on Nov. 17, when the pier was lit by Mayor Richard Montgomery and downtown held its annual Holiday Open House.

In October, when Jane Davis and Heidi Thompson read an article about the need for money, they started e-mailing their friends and through a simple e-mail chain, more than $10,000 of donations poured in within two weeks. The e-mail chain continued through local schools, and Robinson Elementary declared November "Save the Roundhouse" month. The trend caught on.

From this initial momentum, Gross realized the power to save the historic landmark was with the people. Together with Davis and Thompson, she organized a silent auction fundraiser held at Elleni Designer Shoes and Chocolate with the blessing of owner Skylar Tourigny.

The group had only weeks to plan the Nov. 11 event and collected more than 80 items for the auction, as well as food and wine. Gross was amazed at the speed and efficiency of her helpers.

Donations for the silent auction included a signed Colbie Callait guitar, tickets to Lakers and USC games, tickets to the Video Game Awards, professional gifts, photography, beauty and wellness packages and  a one-week stay in Laguna Beach.

During the event, raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win a bottle of wine from Yasmina and Jim Boyd, a $50 gift certificate to , $100 of dry cleaning from  and a one-hour massage at Buddha Lounge.

By the end of the evening, the store was packed full of patrons - mostly Manhattan Beach locals but many from the surrounding Beach Cities - sipping wine and enjoying hors devours. 

At the Elleni fundraiser, more than 250 people donated $17,000+, all of which was given to the aquarium.

"It's nice to know that you're loved," said Fruin. That love has even come from five-year-olds Elleni Tourigny and Satiri Tsoflias, whose lemonade stand on The Strand raised $450 for the aquarium.

In another outpouring of good, The South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach invited aquarium staff to take dibs on money in its fountains. The staff headed out with buckets to retrieve the pennies, nickels, and dimes. The change added up to $1,500. Indeed, by the end of November, the team was $30,000 closer to closing the deficit. 

Roundhouse believes local businesses will continue to step up.  in Manhattan Beach has held a fundraiser, donating a portion of proceeds from any sale where the patron mentioned "Roundhouse." This type of effort shows the board there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

Other ways to donate are on the website and include using PayPal, buying eco-friendly products via Greenraising, using GoodSearch as your search engine or buying items from the online gift store.

Gross said that renting out the facility for private, noneducational events remains an option. In fact, city hall may see a Roundhouse licensing change proposal before year's end to accommodate a broader range of facility rentals.

The Roundhouse operates with a full-time three-person staff, four part-timers and hoards of volunteers. It is open to the public free of charge with a suggested donation of $2 per person or $5 per family. Operating hours are from 3 p.m. to sunset, Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to sunset on Saturday and Sunday.

Individuals interested in helping the Roundhouse, can contact Valerie Hill, administrative director & co-educational director, at roundhouse.aquarium@verizon.net.

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