Proving that community service and helping others is a family value, Ezra Granet, a sophomore at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, is expanding on a project started by his brother that brings young people with disabilities together with peer coaches for athletic opportunities.
The nonprofit, dubbed San Diego Chill Out, offers children with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and autism the chance to get outside and learn to play sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball and bowling, all with a coach who is comparable in age.
“It helps kids be part of a team and learn social skills. It also gave the mentors and coaches a chance to be with kids that are differently abled and give a different perspective,” said Ezra, who created San Diego Chill Out as a bar mitzvah project. The result has been more than he expected.
“It’s always great to see the smile on people’s faces when they aren’t working with adults that have to be there,” he said. “And after working with these kids, I have another perspective on life. I’m humbled by these kids and to be able to have that experience.”
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No sports or coaching experience is required to be a coach, so Ezra had no problem finding volunteers to help build the program. By staffing a table at a community service fair at The Bishop’s School, Ezra was able to get email addresses for people interested in volunteering. He also partnered with Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley for help.
“I wanted to make it available to anyone that plays any sport, so every month, I pick a different sport,” said Ezra, who plays soccer and football and lives in Carmel Valley. “We did bowling, soccer, basketball, beach volleyball.”
He said the plan is to have San Diego Chill Out operate as long as possible — or at least as long as the project that inspired it. That program, called San Diego Chill, was started by Ezra’s brother Isaiah and is still operating.
The difference is that San Diego Chill focuses solely on ice hockey, whereas San Diego Chill Out offers different sports.
Isaiah said San Diego Chill was inspired by a boy named Adam who hung out — but never played — at the ice rink at the Westfield UTC mall, where Isaiah played hockey.
“He always cheered on the ice hockey team from the sidelines, but he had Down syndrome, so he couldn’t be integrated onto a team,” Isaiah said. “One day I spent a little time talking to him and his mother and it broke my heart to think of not being able to play.”
Soon after, Isaiah launched San Diego Chill with two participants and a group of coaches. The program eventually grew to four and then 12 and 16 participants working with peer mentors to play hockey.
“I’m so inspired by the fact that Ezra wants to take up the torch on this,” Isaiah said. “He always wanted to be involved, but he was never interested in ice hockey. He has always had a passion for helping others. … I’m at a loss for words to see how he is growing the program.”
With San Diego Chill — and San Diego Chill Out — “it’s about impact and change and recognizing we have an obligation to each other to lift each other up,” Isaiah added. “What I get out of it is seeing the smile and the joy that I have on the ice, spreading that light and happiness. People can get stuck thinking they have to change the world, but it’s really about changing someone’s world. You can start small and grow.”
Ezra said community service has been important to him for as long as he can remember.
“It is a necessity,” he said. “I’ve learned that I prefer giving over receiving. It’s more satisfying to see the happiness on other people’s faces when you give something rather than get something.”
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ezra created the charity Donate4Masks to collect donations to buy surgical masks for people who needed them most. He partnered with Clinical Supplies, a mask company, and negotiated a bulk price so he could buy large amounts of masks.
To raise the money to buy them, Ezra launched a GoFundMe page, received a grant from the Rotary Club of Coronado and sold a mask tether called MOMO (Mask On Mask Off) that takes the pressure off one’s ears when wearing masks for extended periods. Soon he had $2,000 — enough to buy about 20,000 masks. Half of them went to firefighters, the rest to other organizations.
“I started with firefighters because I knew they needed them,” Ezra told the La Jolla Light at the time. “I donated some to Jewish Family Service because they help a lot of people with their food drives, and soon I will donate some to Family Health Centers of San Diego because they provide care to people that don’t have insurance or have trouble affording health care.
“It makes me really happy to do this. When I donate to others, people seem really happy. It makes me feel good because I realized how much I was helping people.”
As for San Diego Chill Out, he said the program is always open to new participants and mentors, though he said he needs financial donations to continue operating.
Ezra can be reached through sandiegochill.org. ◆