Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

Full service is a tough term to adequately define. The breadth and scope of it is so far reaching that in certain situations, it can be overwhelming to imagine all the possible combinations playing out: especially when it comes to travel. The variables involved in planning a family trip can often add up to an unbelievable amount of stress - all in order to find a safe haven far from your stresses. Picking a destination, drawing out a budget, deciding on points of interest, museum tours, airline tickets, travel visas, or railway passes, eating out or eating in, grocery shopping, souvenir shopping; hotels with pools or hotels with fitness centers? All before even getting your entire family on board. Each person adds new complexities - like building a rubber band ball that with each layer has an even greater chance of bouncing the wrong way and going through the nearest window.

Craig CarterCraig CarterCraig Carter is no stranger to the requirements of full service travel. Previously with American Airlines, Craig and his wife Amy were transferred to Orange County in 1997. Originally residents of Aliso Viejo, Craig and Amy moved to San Clemente in 2007, just one year before launching LUXE Travel Management. The result of a strong commitment among a handful of travel “pros”, LUXE was both an agreement and a vision: to provide their clients with the most comprehensive travel services available. Drawing from the shared experience of over one hundred travel agents and professionals from across the industry, the team at LUXE builds events, corporate retreats, meetings, group exercises and even worldwide leisure packages from the ground up.

Portofino Italy“Our cross section of the industry is very impressive. Everyone says ‘our people set us apart’, but this could not be more true at LUXE,” says Craig. Being an ex-exec himself, Craig knows the ins-and-outs of quality service, and brought together a core management team that hails from virtually every facet of the industry: airline executives, Fortune 500 travel directors, hotel representatives, and private agency owners.

“Yes, we have all of the state-of-the-art industry tools and technologies at our fingertips,” he says. “But we also have a group who chose to leave other positions to form LUXE - and our presence in the leisure travel world has reflected that dedication to excellence and detail by its tremendous growth.”

Scenic Amber Vitality Pool Budapest retouchCraig and his family have faced down the trials and tribulations of getting the whole family on board before. So LUXE’s leisure travel sits especially close to home. “Finding something that my two sons, daughter, and wife can all enjoy is a difficult enough task,” Craig notes, “and we love to travel together.”

Multi-generational travel comes with a special set of complications, like the rubber band ball - but LUXE controls the bounce, and can even direct the most varied of energies. “Cruising has become the go-to solution for family reunions and group travel. Everyone from grandparents to grandbabies can find something to fit their own unique needs.” Examples of itineraries LUXE can deliver include experiencing Europe at Christmastime (visiting charming villages and the Christmas markets on a Scenic River Cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam), indulging in an all-inclusive family reunion at Beaches, Turks & Caicos, forging an unforgettable family adventure to Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado or partaking in a luxuriously pampering Paul Gauguin Cruise to Tahiti.

Rhine DARK SKY smallGroup fares help lower the overall cost, even when you factor in the actual expense covering breakfast, lunch, dinner - specialty dining for kids, age appropriate entertainment, scenic ports with individualized adventures, and on board perks like a carousel for the kids and spa treatments for Mom and Dad. With offices in Boca Raton and Clearwater, Florida, and headquarters in Irvine, California, LUXE offers coast to coast peace of mind for the group traveler.

Lessening the unknowns and leveraging leisure are just side effects of a full service experience. “We expect the unexpected, anticipate your needs, and exceed the expectations you have for your personal vacation. We’ve been where you want to go, and we can help you create a truly one-of-a-kind experience.”

Luxe Travel Club is located at 16450 Bake Parkway, Suite 100 in Irvine. Connect with Craig and his team of professionals by calling (949) 336-1000 or visit

My husband and I made the mistake of telling our kids we were planning an overnight stay and two days of fun at LEGOLAND® in Carlsbad two weeks prior to the planned visit last month. As you can imagine, we were on the countdown for the the next 13 days, peppered with questions about which attraction in the park we would experience first, if we could plan to be at the entrance “right when they open” so as to be among the first in line, whether two days was really enough time to enjoy the main park, the water park AND the aquarium?

SURFERSCOVE Draft10 flat 576x678RGBThe hotel was a dream come true for our kids and their parents - they loved everything about their stay - from collecting clues in a scavenger hunt that results in a code that unlocks a treasure chest in the room (which reveals a Lego set they could work on while mom and dad get the bags unpacked). Our accommodation is divided into an adult section with a king bed and a smaller, separate nook with bunk beds). The rooms are themed according to five popular lines of Lego toys: pirates, adventure, friends, kingdom and - as our son was ecstatic to discover … the new NINJAGO guest rooms which opened last March. For the latter, guests can choose from 18 rooms and two suites to spend a night with Kai, Jay, Cole, Zane, Lloyd, Nya and Master Wu.

driving school 300dpi 4X6Each room is filled with 11 LEGO® NINJAGO inspired models that include: Zane’s titanium falcon, Nya’s helmet, ninja throwing stars and a massive dragon egg all made out of LEGO bricks. Every child’s sleeping area is themed as a dragon’s cave where ninja dragons are waiting for battle and includes bunk and trundle beds. Plus, kids have their own TV, games, LEGO bricks and their treasure chest was hidden in what’s designed to be a bamboo passageway to the mountain temple! My husband and I slept in ninja style as the king-size bed’s headrest includes a shrine that holds all four elemental weapons.

Bricks restaurant features a buffet of foods that will appeal to everyone — soups, salads, easy-access entrees, and a bar at kids’ level so that they can serve themselves.

Breakfast, which is included with the room, has everything you can think of: eggs, an omelet station, pancakes, yogurt parfaits, pastries, fresh fruit and an array of hot and cold beverages.

aquazone 300dpi 4X6But the best benefit of staying in the hotel situated at the entrance to the park? Hotel guests enjoy early access - a full hour before the general public. And if you want to take a break to relax or refuel, get your hand stamped and you can come and go as you please (with free return entry into the park without waiting in line).

Summer is stacking up as a sure-fire adventure along the Pacific as LEGOLAND® launches its roster of new adventures including Surfer’s Cove, California’s newest beach themed expansion at LEGOLAND Water Park where you can enjoy an epic splash-ground at Wipeout Lagoon or rule Riptide Racers - a competitive water raceway designed for children to jump on a mat and race down one of six slides with family and friends for the fastest time! Each slide stands 17 feet high and is more than 100 feet in length.

Reservations: 877.534.6526

180blu offers inventive dishes, hand-crafted cocktails and unparalleled, awe-inspiring views

RCLAGUN 00427Here in South Orange County, we’re pretty lucky to live so close to the coast and have an abundance of wonderful dining destinations to choose from. But for inventive cuisine coupled with awe-inspiring ocean views, there are few establishments that rival 180blu. Located in The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel - the aptly named 180blu boasts an outdoor lounge/deck situated 150 feet above Salt Creek Beach, defined by breathtaking 180 degrees of blue sky and clear blue ocean water.

180blu’s culinary offerings showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat. Acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors define the seasonal menu which draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.

RCLAGUN 00495The dining destinations at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel have long been favorites for special occasions, date nights and girls’ night out - the service here is what you’d expect of The Ritz-Carlton and consistently so: Attentive yet unobtrusive, professional, yet casually friendly. And 180blu is THE perfect locale to find yourself at happy hour - for the food, the handcrafted cocktails and the spectacular sunsets.

RCLAGUN 00331The menu here is characterized by refreshing hand-crafted beverages (watch Mixologist Erin Snider demonstrate how to make Tequila Sangria, one of the specialty drinks served here), small plates (our favorite here is the Wild Mushroom Huarache - a variation on flatbread piled with wild mushroom, caramelized onion, black bean, goat cheese and truffle oil), sushi (on Friday and Saturday from 6 pm to 9 pm) and desserts. Bonus! Weather permitting, live music Thursday through Sunday from 6 pm - 9 pm.

Other popular small plates include the lobster tacos (enhanced by chile de arbol salsa) and baby kale salad tossed with date, Spanish manchego cheese, roasted beet, toasted almond and a sherry guajillo vinaigrette.

The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is located at 1 Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point. For more information, call (949) 240-2000.

Many years ago, a manager I had said something to me that I’ve never forgotten: “That good customer service isn’t simply the absence of bad customer service.” In today’s retail environment, it sometimes seems a challenge to find businesses that consistently adhere to that adage. Perhaps the ever increasing reliance on technology is to blame; people come face to face less. Perhaps there is more traffic, or more days feel like Mondays, and the attitude of service gets shifted to one of self-reliance. Perhaps the customer has learned to expect outstanding customer service, so it’s just harder to please everyone who walks through the door.

5405 85003 Four Drawer Thin ConsoleDennis Penman, owner of the San Juan Capistrano-based Sanctuary Home Furnishings by Renaissance thinks that good customer service is more than just making clients satisfied, he wants them happy. Dennis believes that happiness will translate into repeat customers and positive, word of mouth referrals.
The transformation from sales associate to partner, and partner to owner may have something to do with Dennis’ dedication to his clients. But simple ownership is never the full story.

“I have always been a people pleaser,” says Dennis. “Just ask my friends - I’m a guy they can turn to for help with whatever. All my jobs have been in a customer service field. I like the feeling when I know I have done the customer right, whether it’s guiding them on sizing, color and style to providing the lowest price.

5206 85001 Console“I found my way to Renaissance Home Furnishings in 2003 when the business was just two and a half years old. I fell in love with the business as each day presented new opportunity to help others and be creative. Nearly 15 years later, my favorite parts of the business are still creating new looks to keep up with the shifting trends of home décor and ensuring customers are happy.

“This month, with the immense assistance of my design and sales team we have completely redesigned our 11,000-square-foot showroom starting with our new name Sanctuary Home Furnishings by Renaissance. “We started in San Juan Capistrano, and now we’re coming home - to help local home owners design their home to reflect their personality.”

Growing up in Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Laguna Niguel and now residing in Capistrano Beach gives Dennis a unique perspective on local taste and expected quality. Renaissance Home Furnishings has long been known for their Mediterranean and Spanish Tuscan flair but as trends have shifted and Renaissance becomes Sanctuary Home Furnishings by Renaissance Sanctuary can now help the Spanish Tuscan homes bring in a cleaner Coastal Transitional feel without requiring a home remodel. “For all the new homes in Rancho Viejo our look is perfect- we can help their homes look like the models.”

50630648947 A81DDEEC 71C3 470E 8928 4121AAEA9962Not ironic too, that the heart of the coastal transitional design trend is the word refuge; a perfect synonym for sanctuary. A safe place to rest one’s head.

“The showroom has an abundance of sofas, sectionals, accent chairs, media chests, accent pieces, bedroom suites, art, mirrors, area rugs and accessories,” says Dennis. “Most everything on the showroom floor can be delivered straight to the customer’s home.”

Having three local manufacturers at its disposal helps immensely. In two to three weeks, Sanctuary can customize, to the inch, a sofa, sectional, or chair to the scale and color palette of the client’s home.
“We can fit any room, in any scale and in any fabric color.”

Sanctuary tries to make the customers shopping and buying experience relaxing and not intimidating. At their store they allow clients to come in and peruse without being tracked throughout the store by a “suit with a clipboard.” They want you to take your time, “tush test the seating”, and know the designer is available yet not hovering. Sanctuary offers piece of mind shopping by allowing customers to memo out products they like but aren’t sure it will work in their home they can check out the item(s) to see them in their homes before purchasing.

Most stores would like to be known for low prices but they offer poor quality goods. Sanctuary wants to be known for quality furnishings at low prices. “I think what really sets us apart is our quality, pricing and the ability we have to work with our clients on every level, from design to customization to installation all at low pricing.” Often, Sanctuary Home Furnishings is lower priced than online but if not they will match the price you find.

Nowadays, that elusive “good customer service” typically goes hand in hand with a commissioned sales force. Motivated by the sale, associates will bend over backwards for their clients. Not necessarily bad for the customer, unless the customer isn’t ready to buy.

“We understand that sometimes it takes a little back and forth to make decisions about your home - you may have these furnishings for the next ten or fifteen or twenty years,” says Dennis. “We want to make the process as easy as if you had the choice to redesign every calendar year.” No pressure, with a non-commissioned sales force. Dennis wants every customer to be helped by any available person at anytime - before, during or after the purchase.

D4209 rect tbl buffetAs I shared earlier in this edition, one of the perks of publishing South County Magazine is that I am provided a venue to share with our readership personal experiences of local business owners whose services I have utilized either personally or professionally. Our introduced a furry new addition to our home last year - a beautiful and rambunctious yellow lab puppy named Bella who prompted wreaked havoc with the wooden legs of the barstools, the couch cushions and the coffee table. When she started to mellow out on the chewing phase a few months later, we surveyed the damage and determined that it might be time to redecorate. As luck would have it, we happen to know a local purveyor of fine furniture and home accents at affordable prices - yep, you guessed it … Dennis Penman and his team at Sanctuary Home Furnishings couldn’t have made the process any easier. Dennis made recommendations based on the colors scheme and general style I said I was looking for and I literally walked out in less than an hour with an delivery date on the calendar. When the pieces arrived, his crew set everything up, hauled the old items out to the garage and voila! … the room was back to being a beautiful space in spite of our pup’s best efforts.

uttermost leather chairsThat same manager I had years back told me one other thing that has stuck around all these years. That we were in the business where the word “no” didn’t exist. You can find that adage anywhere you look at Sanctuary Home Furnishings. As Dennis puts it: “Yes. That is all we try to say.”

Sanctuary Home Furnishings is located at 31896 Plaza Drive, Suite E-7 in San Juan Capistrano. Connect with Dennis and his team by calling (949) 248-9772 or visit

Kristy Fleming, MD, FAAD  Changing the Face of Dermatology

It takes a trained eye to note the subtle shading needed to contour a surfboard. To taper the rails just so. To send the airbrush lightly over the fin box and trace the shape perfectly, symmetrically, precisely. It takes a trained eye to paint the female form, to counter shadow and shape until a living woman appears on the page. It takes a trained eye to dive below what William Asbury called the “large-scale manifestations of classical biology” to the molecular plane below. For Kristy Fleming, MD, each of those became immediately necessary and tangential to another when she discovered that skin cancer often occurs in cosmetically sensitive areas that take a nuanced hand to repair. “My specialty is repairing the defect left by the removal of cancer. Each one is unique, a puzzle to solve in order to give my patients the absolute best cosmetic outcome.”

A board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Society for Mohs Surgery, Dr. Fleming has been preparing for this task her entire life. An attendee of the University of San Francisco, Kristy graduated summa cum laude, moving on to the University of California, Irvine - where Alpha Omega Alpha elected her as part of their top tier graduate honor society. Not quite finished with her education, she moved to Houston, Texas for a residency in dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine.

“In my training at Baylor, and later as a faculty member at UCLA, I became accustomed to seeing very challenging cases,” says Dr. Fleming. Everything from minor skin concerns to life-threatening dermatologic disorders. Those are the cases that keep my days exciting and force me to stay current with emerging treatments.”

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Treatments which have gained Dr. Fleming a dedicated patient following- one that made her transition from Newport Beach to Laguna Hills difficult. “I’ve been slow to move out of the Newport office because I didn’t want my patients to feel abandoned. I know it sounds cliche, but patients really become part of our family. And I believe our dedication to them is really what sets us apart.” Kristy’s sister also works in the office; a talented hair stylist and brow expert. Unique in their ability to provide multiple services at once, it is not uncommon to see Kristy offering Botox or filler treatments to patients waiting for their hair to set. Though the Mohs micrographic surgery allows Kristy to treat her patient’s skin cancers, its efficacy can affect a cosmetic change, and however small, the team wants to fix it all. “All procedures are performed in-house, under my hand. We don’t have nurses or physicians assistants working on our patients. I want you to know you are personally being taken care of.”

On top of skin cancer removal and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Fleming is personally invested in the physical health of her community.

“We’re very excited to be partnering with the Orangewood Foundation to provide laser tattoo removal to victims of human trafficking,” says Dr. Fleming. “The girls are branded with large tattoos across their necks, or chests. We’re out to change that.” Kristy and her team also began a program called Fresh Start, which provides basic skin and hair care products to women and children who fled from unsafe living conditions, and are currently residing in shelters for battered women.“

Now open 5 days a week at their location in Laguna Hills, Kristy and her team are excited to become a staple in the local community, and start changing the way patients view themselves. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see the good in that.

Fleming Dermatology & Aesthetic Center is located at 23141 Moulton Parkway, Suite 110 in Laguna Hills. For information, call (949) 916-5956 or visit

Inventive dishes, award-winning cuisine and stellar service make this intimate OC steakhouse a standout

Whether your tastes run to dishes influenced by exotic culinary spices or dishes that tend toward simpler, seasoned fare, there is certainly no shortage of diverse dining destinations from which to choose here in South Orange County. But if you’re looking for inventive cuisine coupled with exemplary service in the spirit of a time-honored classic American steakhouse, there are but a handful worth writing home about.

The elegant enoSTEAK (located in the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel) harkens back to an earlier era - a time steeped in tradition and attention to detail in everything from its interior design and decor to its exquisite culinary offerings and expansive list of highly-rated California vintages (on impressive display as the centerpiece of the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar). The restaurant’s interior is defined by rich wood, marble flooring, upholstered furnishings and accented by artwork by critically acclaimed painter Sandra Jones Campbell.

On a recent date night, my husband, Tim, and I reserved a table next to the crackling fireplace to indulge in a glass or two of fine wine and each course of beautifully presented, delicious dishes made from the highest quality ingredients … including what are arguably among the best steaks in Orange County featuring prime and grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The organic produce is locally grown and harvested at the peak of the season. The majority of the herbs used to enhance each specialty appetizer and entree are gathered from the resort’s organic garden. The fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. enoSTEAK also highlights artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and of course, the aforementioned selection of fine wines.

The menu changes are based on the essence of the season. enoSTEAK’s spring menu - which debuted the night we visited last month - features noteworthy starters, including the decadent crispy brie accompanied by a jalapeño bacon jam, strawberry and pistachio lightly drizzled with balsamic, the Cali onion soup was flavorfully rich with sherry, crouton, San Geronimo, Sonoma Jack cheese and topped with crispy shallots.

Our server Christian recommended that we sample with the chef’s signature spring pea salad. Now I fancy myself somewhat of a salad connoisseur and as such, was expecting it might fall short of expectation. But I have to say, Chef nailed it with what is now be my new favorite salad - which combines micro greens and fresh-from-the-garden peas with toasted almonds, feta and carrot atop an aromatic arugula pesto.

A meat-and-potatoes man, my husband chose the filet mignon and while I typically steer toward seafood selections, opted instead for the Wagyu NY steak prepared Oscar-style with dungeness crab, asparagus and bearnaise – again at Christian’s suggestion. Both of our steaks were grilled to perfection and literally melted in our mouths.

Showcased entrees range from a dry-aged prime ribeye chop, grass-fed filet and coffee-rubbed Wagyu NY Steak (a more marbled cut than the filet) to pan-seared sea bass and Mary’s farm fried half chicken. Accompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including creamy horseradish, garden herb and garlic/truffle butter, cognac green peppercorn, béarnaise and enoSTK sauce. Enhancements to the entrees include sherry cream sauteed mushrooms, truffled white cheddar cavateli (the chef’s inspired spin on “mac and cheese), Yukon potato mash and creamed corn.

With enoSTEAK, The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel has certainly raised the bar for destination dining in the region and for our part, we can’t wait to visit again and experience what will undoubtedly be an equally-inspired summer menu.

Open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, enoSTEAK is located in The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel at One Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point. For more information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000 or visit

When I was a child, I remember my parents moving our family into a new house, with pristine, white carpets. Beautiful to look at, but completely impractical when you consider that two young children would soon be tromping about.

As expected, my brother and I managed to ruin a swath of the floor covering in spectacular fashion … and in relatively short order. Enough so that it was replaced with a more manageable shade. Had my parents discovered the benefits of professional carpet cleaning services like those offered by the Laguna Niguel-based Beacon Carpet Cleaning, they certainly would have been better able to keep their flooring, countertops and upholstery from looking like they’d survived the tornado of their kids.

Ken and Linda Rogers, who founded Beacon in 1988, originally intended to simply find something they could do side-by-side. Both having spent their careers in various customer service oriented businesses, and searching for an opportunity to branch out, they decided upon carpet cleaning. In the years since, the couple and their longtime staff “family” have set the standard in residential and commercial carpet cleaning across Orange County.

An IICRC, Wools of New Zealand and Carpet and Rug Institute certified firm, Beacon takes the process of education to the next level, ensuring their team of professionals are trained to an unprecedented degree of sharpness and quality. The Master and Journeyman Certifications, highest available in the carpet cleaning industry, ensure that Ken and Linda’s customers enjoy a necessary service given by a trustworthy crew.

Premium Carpet CleaningPremium Carpet CleaningFast forward (a few) years and I’m now a grown-up with kids of my own. By pure happenstance, our family inherited the gorgeous off-white carpeting that came with the home we purchased a few years ago. Add the happy fact that our abode has been the scene of many an afternoon play date and the recent addition of a new puppy and you can probably imagine the toll the carpets have taken. But unlike my parents, I have long recognized the importance of calling in the experts - well before the point of no return.

When we called Beacon Carpet Cleaning, Ken personally came out to give us an estimate. In utilizing their services, I can confidently share that he, Linda and their crew - many of whom have been with the company for over a decade - are not only highly professional, but are among the nicest people in the business. They did a great job and given that our kids and pup are still young, we’ll very likely be calling on Beacon again in the not-to-distant future.

Maintaining one’s floors, showers, countertops, upholstery, rugs, mattresses, and other areas around the home can be overwhelming: with or without children running amok. Since its inception, Beacon evolved to encompass a complementary business - Marblelife Stone and Tile Restoration with the goal of engaging its clients on as many surfaces as possible. Beacon providing protectants and cleaning services for almost anything you can think of: your Grandmother’s antique Oriental rug to yacht and boat cleaning in the harbors of Orange County.

“Each of these surfaces work together to create a cherished expression of your identity, dreams, and values,” says Ken. “It’s a unique space to celebrate with friends, or just to enjoy time by yourself. We can meet you in that space and help you protect what you invested in, keeping it looking its best for as long as possible.”

IMG 0642Beacon Carpet Cleaning and Marblelife is located at 27665 Forbes Road in Laguna Niguel. To connect with Ken and Linda, call (949) 525-4742 or visit or

They say it takes ten years to become an overnight success. Ten years of pounding the pavement, auditioning, making it happen. Ten years of hard work for what looks like instant accomplishment to the outside world. And then, voila! One day, everyone knows who you are. Co-founders of the Acting Academy for Kids, Stephen and Maggie Zygo have been on both sides of the industry. The struggle and the payoff. Since its inception in 2006, their once fledgling professional acting and film school has emerged as a leader in the performing arts community for kids and teens with over 10,000+ students having joined the ranks of talented performers who make up the AA4K family. But it is the couple’s personal story that reads as though scripted for the silver screen - equal parts happiness and heartache.

“While building AA4K, Maggie and I held off on starting a family: we wanted to ensure we were secure enough financially to provide for those new responsibilities,” says Stephen. And on November 28, 2014 - those responsibilities became a reality with the birth of Julian Adam Ke’Aloha Zygo “12 minutes after Thanksgiving, and the first step in the most massive shift our lives had taken yet.”

0518Six months after Julian was born, Maggie and Stephen were expecting again. The couple closed on a home to accommodate their growing family and were happily making plans for the move when they received word that after nearly a decade operating out of the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano, the venue would soon be closing its doors - the fate of AA4K uncertain. That news was overshadowed by a devastating Stage 3 cancer diagnosis for Maggie on the very same day their second son was born. While their family has certainly faced some of the greatest challenges they’d ever imagined, Stephen and Maggie have emerged stronger than ever and even more deeply committed to their cause: personally and professionally.


How AA4K evolved

When Stephen and Maggie Zygo took a leap of faith and followed their passion to create Acting Academy for Kids (AA4K), they were simply following a dream.
The couple wanted to create an environment where kids were free to explore musical theater, acting, voice, dance, and instrumental music. Now, their summer camps, musical theater productions, a fully realized film program, voice lessons and private after-school acting classes give kids from all over Orange County the ability to follow their own dreams - without having to trek to LA in search of a like experience.

As Stephen and Maggie both hold Master’s Degrees in teaching (Stephen also holds a degree in Musical Theatre Performance), the couple not only bring a dedication to the craft of performance, but an unflinching drive to bring on the best teachers in town - a combination that attracts instructors who are both trained performing artists and credentialed educators. Live Scan screens, 1st Aid & CPR are also requirements to join the AA4K team.

Over the years Acting Academy has garnered accolades including “Best Children’s Live Theater” and “Best Theater School.” So one might think that they’ve earned a break from creating new, unique programs - but a break is not on anyone’s mind: let alone Stephen or Maggie.

“We are committed to continually strive to provide a premier experience in South Orange County through a variety of programs that will be distinguished by our focus on nurturing the young actor,” says Stephen. “It is our goal to challenge and help our students continually grow and achieve even greater success in whatever paths they choose.” And grow they do. Whether participants choose to pursue musical theater or focus on film, kids come away with the skills they need to be successful in the real world in an atmosphere of care and support parents have come to expect from AA4K.

The Acting Academy’s Musical Theater Series casts, produces, and performs a new popular Broadway musical every 12 weeks. Bringing a full-scale production to life on stage is no small feat, combining professional lighting, sets and sound. The Zygos are thrilled to have found their new “forever” home at a fantastic location in San Clemente inside the Holiday Inn Express (close to Avenida Pico and the 5 Freeway). The all-new “Z Playhouse” will be designed in grand 1920’s Hollywood style - the expansive space converted into a fully functional theater complete with a TV/film studio, recording studio, dressing rooms, costume shop, rehearsal rooms and a concession area.

“Once we knew we would have to find a new location, miracle after miracle rolled in,” says Stephen. “We approached the Community Roots Academy Foundation and are bringing our programs to their performing arts center. Then a local mom found another venue that was willing to work within our budgetary constraints, and we founded an incredible partnership with a performing arts school in Irvine that shares a building with the Pacific Symphony and OC Music and Dance. Three spaces where kids can come in shy and insecure and go off confident and poised.”

Being a part of the AA4K is more than just success, more than being known in the industry, more than developing public speaking skills or rounding out a child’s musical talent. It is a mentorship, and a community, and a family. What better place for a child to find their voice?

Giving each child a chance to raise that voice, the Academy also offers Performing Arts camps all summer long. Providing their signature immersion experience, campers can sign up for a single week, the entire summer, or any amount of time in between. If your child is at the top of bottom of the age range for Summer Camp, not to worry: ages are split into smaller groups of 4-7, 7-10, and 10-13 year olds (contingent upon enrollment). That being said, each program fosters open communication and teamwork among age groups, and the kids love it.

“This side of Heaven isn’t always jazz hands and the silver screen,” says Stephen. “You gotta just keep doing good in the community by making a difference where you can. For us, that’s the arts.”

To connect with Stephen, Maggie and the AA4K team, call (949) 427-0072 or visit

Modeling America’s Youth Through Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley

It has been exactly 157 years since the first Boys Club was founded in Hartford, Connecticut. Elizabeth Hamersley and Sisters Mary and Alice Goodwin were first to share the vision of enabled, successful youth, eventually stoking the fire to inspire the likes of former US Presidents, Postmaster Generals, and even the director of the FBI to form the Boys Clubs of America in 1956. Since then, the Club has undergone a second redesignation, upgrading its name to Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 1990. In total there are now organizations in all fifty states - serving, by totals from 2010, as many as four million boys and girls.

James Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, has certainly followed in the illustrious footsteps of those who came before him. Providing stimulating and challenging programs in order to reach their potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens has never before been such a daunting or rewarding venture, and James is preparing the South County to be a vanguard for the next 157 years of Clubs.

BGC Logo 2 ColoredThe notion of a productive future is wildly subjective, but James views his mission through a similar lens to that of a creative designer, achieving perfection “not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery noted in his 1939 text, Terre des Hommes. This act of distillation has proven to impress upon its youth a sense of self-worth by minimizing the vast and oft overwhelming scope of moral principles to a simple development strategy: academic success, good character, citizenship, and healthy lifestyles. One could spend all his time debating the merits of each facet of social, educational, or vocational leadership.

To that effect, James and his team in the Capistrano Valley are attacking all of the above, with tailored development programs from which their full time staff is seeking results. So how much does it cost? A better question in James’ mind is how much is it worth?

“No child is ever turned away due to lack of ability to pay,” says James. “More than 88% of our membership qualifies for the free or reduced lunch program which grants them scholarship opportunities. And all of our services are provided to our members for a single $70 annual membership fee.”

While at the club, members have the opportunity to choose the programs they wish to participate in. The only mandatory activity is POWERhour homework time. “Allowing our members to make positive choices helps them to grow as a person and prepares them to become responsible citizens.”

The full time staff develop the Clubs’ programs, and are supplemented by volunteers; both part and one-time. Programs are geared towards the Formula for Impact. Like Saint-Exupery’s design strategy, the Clubs’ Formula is driven by select key positive youth development elements: High-Yield Learning activities and regular attendance. The outcome of Academic Success then, is graduated members leaving high school ready for college, trade school, military, or full-time employment. Registering to vote and engaging in the community with model character is a direct outcome of paring down the programs with Good Character and Citizenship in mind. Adopting a healthy diet goes hand in hand with the Clubs’ priority outcome area of Healthy Lifestyle - creating a lifelong commitment to fitness.

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“Summer has a devastating effect on America’s kids, especially those who don’t participate in enriching summer activities,” says James. “Summer Brain Gain is hugely important to help keep kids on track in time outside the strict direction of schooling months. Youth aged 13-18 can explore a broad range of career areas, match their interest to development clusters, and identify the skills and education they need for their decided path. We work with the Club to recognize members for extraordinary achievements - standing as ambassadors for Boys & Girls Club youth in a Youth of the Year role.”

Kids can also join the Keystone and Torch Club - both of which offer opportunities for small group leadership and service, maturing younger adolescents at a critical stage in their health, education, community, and social development. Sports like wrestling, tennis, basketball and indoor soccer are on the table too - and participants are exposed to various activities designed to hone their decision-making and critical-thinking skills: learning how to successfully avoid and/or resist alcohol, tobacco, and premature sexual activity.

Want to help out, but not sure how to begin? “Any investment is a worthwhile investment”, James notes. “Expertise, financial, or just your time. Add your name to the list of mentors who have brought this program through the last 157 years.” Who knows? You might be that key piece in Saint-Exupery’s design koan: you add, the kids take away.

Connect with James and the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley by calling (949) 240-7898 or visit

The legend begins with an apple. Perhaps the crux of all legends are apples: Adam and Eve, Snow White, Atalanta and Hippomenes. This apple, however, dropped from a height onto a specific gentleman’s head, thusly and in a flash confirming all of his ideas regarding gravity, inertia and, as he named it, the “drawing power in matter.” Most of my experience with apples does not include a flash of genius - and most of my experience with gravity just helps me explain away the feeling of my body growing heavier with age. Whatever the legend though, the truth of Newton’s laws of gravity ring true still today, and find special purchase in the fitness arena, when you consider that a body in motion (tends) to stay in motion. Cara Fraser and Nicole Howard at Align Pilates and Yoga in San Juan Capistrano couldn’t agree more, and have a method of to keeping their clients in motion through the connection of “Mind, Body and Spirit.”

Pilates 201As a practice, many cannot tell the difference between yoga and pilates. And if you were to compare them apples to apples, many facets of both disciplines come down to joint stability and alignment. Yoga takes you away from your center and opens up the entire body. However, pilates tends to bring you back to the core, with the added benefit of spring weighted resistance. Being California natives and dancers brought Cara and Nicole to CSULB in the early 2000’s, but being constantly in motion brought them to pilates. Dance, as a discipline relies heavily on muscle control, which depends on a combination of fast and slow twitch muscle responses. Training for flexibility, strength, and agility seemed a no-brainer. Enter the apple and its magic flash. “Pilates and yoga made so much sense to both of us from the outset,” says Nicole. “The higher quality your movement, the higher quality of life: and pilates trains for it all.” Back care, pain management, breathwork, scoliosis, special populations - even just your basic strength conditioning.

Pilates 202Emphasizing proper alignment and technique, the team that Nicole and Cara have built at Align includes a staff of highly educated and talented instructors who want to meet you on your level of movement. “We offer a full schedule of pilates mat classes and an array of yoga classes, which are very hard to find in one location,” says Cara. “We are also one of the only studios in the areas to offer aerial yoga classes utilizing a large supportive hammock to deepen and help one’s yoga practice; not to mention it makes things a little more fun.” As children, both Cara and Nicole spent a great many hours in the outdoors: hiking, camping, and skiing. So it’s no wonder that the study and application of movement has become their life’s work. “I recently took up 6 Man Outrigger Canoeing,” Nicole says with a smile. “I just can’t seem to stop trying new things, and each sport takes joint stability, core strength and long, agile muscles. Pilates brings a focus to my everyday practice that I can take with me anywhere I go.”

20170312 DSC 2282Both graduates of CSULB and recipients of Master level Pilates Certifications, Nicole and Cara have been teaching for the last ten years. “I started teaching in San Clemente after I graduated college,” says Cara. “Nicole moved to San Clemente in 2003 and starting teaching Pilates that same year at a physical therapy office in SJC. She has been teaching in the area ever since, and truly has found her home here.” Being local daughters of the community has helped them gain a unique perspective on their clients and the special demands of our Southern California lifestyle. “You want meditation? Take Pilates. You can’t get anything out of it if the effort is mindless and sloppy. You want to recover from a surfing injury? Everyone has some form of muscular imbalance from habitual patterns. Pilates helps to correct them.”

Pilates 203Perhaps just feeling like you’re a bit more apple or pear shaped that you’d like to be? Not only has Pilates been linked to mental and physical stress reduction, which lowers cortisol levels in the body, it can transform your physique as well. More and more studies are showing that an improved physical state can lead to increased stimulation and brain function - bringing the body back to its true balance. Overworking already tired and weak muscles leads to injury and strain. But choosing to mindfully engage weak or underdeveloped areas brings fresh blood flow to the body which contributes to healing joints, tissues and correcting postural deviations.

“Our yoga classes are non-heated, which means you warm up your body the natural way, and the concept of following breathing patterns isn’t just some transcendental B.S.,” says Nicole. “Breath is life, and fully using correct breathing patterns can actually increase your lung capacity, invigorating you, and releasing stress and tension in the body, even as you’re working hard.”

Most studios can get to feeling like you’re in an intro to Physics 101 class - lost in huge numbers of students trying to follow along with the textbook because the professor has already moved on. At Align Pilates and Yoga, they have instilled a deep commitment to specialization: and all their instructors have been trained by the top certifying programs in the world. Most have over 10 years of teaching experience, and want to get personal with each client, and each client’s condition. Suffering from any physical ailment can be crippling over a long enough period of time, and if we are to follow Newton’s theory - a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Of course, certain back or neck conditions, for instance, shouldn’t be moved in certain directions to maintain a safe exercise program. But when done correctly, pilates and yoga are a low impact, safe form of exercise. “It’s hugely important before you go into a class to inform the instructors of injuries or preexisting conditions to reduce the risk of further injury. But it shouldn’t exclude you from using your body to its utmost level of capability.”

Whether you’ve had a flash of genius or you’re just feeling the effects of gravity in a new way, there’s no time like the present to stop making excuses for your quality of life, and start making changes. Align Pilates and Yoga will mindfully keep you moving in the right direction for years to come.

Connect with the Align Pilates team by stopping by their new studio at 31986 Plaza Dr., Suite E6 in San Juan Capistrano, call (949) 481-3577 or visit