Local teenager does ‘Whatever It Takes’ to support Helen Woodward program

Ariela Leff with Robin Cohen, manager of Helen Woodward PET Encounter Therapy program.
(Sarah Hernholm)

Carmel Valley’s Ariela Leff recently donated $2,403 to the Pet Encounter Therapy program at Helen Woodward Animal Center. She raises funds by giving back half of the profits from her bracelet-making business Lulu’s Bracelets. To date, she has sold over 200 bracelets and donated over $3,500.

Ariela is a 13-year-old seventh grader at La Jolla Country Day. She started Lulu’s over two years ago and has expanded on her efforts through her involvement with WIT (Whatever It Takes), a social entrepreneurship and leadership program for teens.

“At first it was just for fun but then I thought it would be really cool to put this for a cause and to sell the bracelets,” Ariela said.

At first she offered the bracelets on Instagram and then started selling at Color Counter, a salon boutique in One Paseo. The majority of her sales now are through the salon.

When looking for a bracelet beneficiary, she considered many different organizations but was connected with Helen Woodward’s program through WIT founder Sarah Hernholm. The Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program brings the healing power of animals to people in need with visits to more than 50 facilities a month including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, children’s shelters and psychiatric units.

“I really liked what they were doing at Helen Woodward and I really liked the idea of people in the hospital getting to see dogs if they’re not feeling well because when I see my dogs it makes me really happy,” said Ariela, an animal lover and owner of two dogs, Gucci and Prada.

The day that Ariela made her donation, PET manager Robin Cohen was coming back from a visit where the therapy dogs had made a big impact on a self-isolating teenager. She shared with Ariela that the boy had been struggling with mental health and started talking for the first time when playing with the dog. Encounters like that are made possible by donations like Arela’s.

“I felt very successful,” Ariela said. “I feel like she was really happy by (the donation) and it made me feel good that I was doing something good for someone else.”

Ariela has learned a lot through WIT, including organizational skills and money management—making a budget for Lulu’s was an eye-opener, having to consider how much supplies cost and how things can quickly add up with 50% of proceeds going to charity. She made the decision to make seasonal bracelet collections because it become too much to take individual orders on Instagram.

“Sometimes it can get overwhelming with school,” said Ariela, who also sings, plays the cello and is currently performing in ‘Seussical the Musical” at school. “WIT helped me organize my time and not stress about all this work and to do it for me, not because my parents told me to but because I love it.”

Ariela plans to keep doing WIT but right now she is pausing on bracelet making and thinking of what she might want to do next.

“I’m so proud of her because I remember when it was just an idea. It really has always been something that she loves to do,” Hernholm said. “It’s been a really wonderful journey to witness Ariela do this and take the initiative.”