For one Marina del Rey businesswoman, the proceeds from a recipe handed down through her family have been a way to contribute to less fortunate youths.
Jeri Blender, 53, a Marina resident since 1973, is the owner of Blender’s Barbecue Sauce, a Marina-based product that she and her business partner sell in 27 local stores.
For more than a year, Blender says she has taken portions of her business profits and used them to donate items such as computers, books, clothes and iPods to underprivileged children in the Los Angeles area.
The contributions go to various local organizations that are concerned with youths, including the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, in which Blender is involved as a Big Sister, and Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, the adoption agency from which Blender was adopted as a baby.
“No matter what I do, I like to give back,” Blender said.
The barbecue sauce, which originated with Blender’s family in Kansas City and was handed down to her from her aunt, has become not only a hot commodity but a means to contribute to some of her favorite people — children, she says.
“It has given me the tools and accessibility to reach more people,” Blender said of her sauce.
The sauce has been just one of a variety of ways Blender has tried to help out youths in the community. She has hosted several parties over the years for children, as well as fundraising events and holiday gift drives, colleagues said.
One of Blender’s passions is her involvement with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, in which she is a Big Sister to 14-year-old Imari, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles.
Blender, who does not have a child of her own, said the eight years she has spent as a Big Sister to Imari have allowed her to see firsthand the love a parent can have for her child.
“I wanted to have a child in my life because I never had any of my own,” she said of getting involved with the program.
Regina Rhymes, a match support specialist with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, called Blender “the poster-child” for the program.
“Jeri embodies what Big Brothers Big Sisters is about — to provide friendship to a young girl or young boy to help them in their psychological and social growth,” Rhymes said. “She has committed herself to the entire family.”
Through her time with the program, Blender has helped expose Imari and other children to numerous activities and has been “instrumental” in ensuring that they get the proper resources, Rhymes said.
The key to Blender’s influence on the youths is her focus on building relationships and her devotion to the program, Rhymes noted.
The Marina businesswoman has given to the organization not only by dedicating her time unconditionally but by offering donations and helping to raise funds, Rhymes said.
“We couldn’t ask for a better representative for the agency,” Rhymes said.
During her years with Imari, Blender says she has had numerous experiences with the young girl, including coaching her to swim and play tennis, taking trips and visiting tourist spots throughout Los Angeles.
While the two have had all kinds of fun together, one of the most fulfilling experiences for Blender has been seeing her Little Sister grow and develop into a young adult. Blender recently witnessed Imari graduate from junior high school.
“It has been the most rewarding experience,” Blender said of her time with Imari. “I’m very proud of her. She has come a long way.”
Blender has also influenced others to get involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, said fellow Marina del Rey resident Maxine Page, who is a Big Sister to Imari’s ten-year-old sister, Jamila.
After Blender encouraged her to become a Big Sister, Page says she couldn’t be happier.
“I’m loving it,” Page said. “It has given me a responsibility.”
As for Blender donating a percentage of her barbecue sauce profits to youth programs, Page said Blender is just being the type of person she is.
“It’s very ‘her’, because she wants to give back to the community,” Page said.
With her various contributions to Big Brothers Big Sisters over the years, Blender was recently named by program officials to be an ambassador for the organization.
Blender called the position an “honor,” one which will enable her to continue giving back.
“It’s a great feeling to know that I can make a difference in the community,” she said.