December Community Services Feature with Angela Ortiz, Founder of A Place To Grow

By Tia Haygood, Community Services Director

When you experience a disaster, when you lose everything that was important, your world falls apart. You lose hope. You lose purpose. You lose the capacity to recover. Those who survived the disaster now must survive the recovery. – Angela Ortiz, Founder of A Place To Grow

A Place To Grow is an organization that aims to break away from the short term disaster relief NGOs we see in Japan today and create a more lasting and socially driven effort to rebuild communities. The organization originally began after the subsequent events that stemmed from the March 11, 2011 earthquake disaster. As families in Tohoku began to pick up the pieces of their lives, APTG created interactive workshops facilitated by international and local volunteers to help educate communities, particularly children, to become self sufficient once more. Ideally, APTG’s effects in one community inspire survivors who in turn support new disaster victims in other communities.

A Place To Grow’s Unique Strategy

Where many traditional disaster relief NGOs focus on providing food, water, and shelter in the wake of a disaster, A Place To Grow provides emotional and educational recovery with the children of these recovering communities. Children who have suffered a loss participate in art, media, or sports-oriented workshops that allow them to express themselves and redefine their lives from being dependent to being independent. Building self-sufficiency in a recovering community is one of APTG’s most important goals. Another such goal is connecting recovering communities with each other to foster positive and lasting relationships.

The Challenges for A Place To Grow

Because of their unique approach to fostering stronger communities and self-sufficiency, Angela Ortiz and her co-director Tyler Harder’s biggest challenge is finding international and local volunteers who are committed to a more recurring role to children and their families in these recovery areas. One of the benefits of volunteering with A Place To Grow is that volunteers not only help a recovering community gain back their strength, but that they also maintain relationships with those survivors through APTG workshops and events. Angela fondly remembers a time when one of the children she interacts with began calling her “Angela” instead of “Angela-san” as used the year before. Creating a bond with children survivors is key to helping them develop their ability to express themselves. Having an ample number of familiar-faced volunteers are key components of APTG’s success.

How can we ladies at FEW help?

There are numerous ways we can help A Place To Grow cultivate creativity, expression and recovery in the many affected areas in Tohoku. This month, Angela, Tyler and the APTG team will be conducting the Santa Soul Train on December 16th, 17th and 18th. APTG volunteers will be carrying Christmas cards and Secret Santa Stockings to almost 1,312 children across Tohoku. FEW members are more than welcome to decorate a christmas card for one or more Tohoku children or purchase a Secret Santa gift stocking for one or more children at 3,000 yen per stocking. If you would like your company to sponsor a large number of children, there are multiple corporate sponsor options as well. If you would like to send a card or to purchase a stocking click the link below:

2017 Santa Soul Train

We are happy to announce that A Place To Grow will be present for FEW Japan’s 2017 Bonenkai Party on Friday, December 15th at the HR Roppongi Hotel. If you would like to interact with APTG in person please register for the Bonenkai here.


Other organizations you can support during the Christmas season are:

Mirai no Mori

Is a non-profit organization that creates life-changing outdoor programs for abused, neglected, and orphaned children in Japan. Their mission is to support each child’s growth into a happy and successful young adult. Become a volunteer here!

The Make a Wish Foundation

The Make a Wish Foundation is an organization that contributes towards the wishes of children living in Japan, between the ages of 3 and 18 years old, with life threatening illnesses. Become a volunteer! Show your support here!

A Playground for Hope

The Playground of Hope aims to restore the “social fabric” of disaster-affected and/or economically challenged communities through the power of play.  This is done by providing cost effective play equipment and pairing donors with local volunteers to build play spaces that restore community pride and help make communities “livable” again for children, their parents and grandparents. Help build a better community here!


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