After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, hundreds of volunteers and community leaders gathered Sunday afternoon on the playground of Baldwin Hills Elementary School to raise funds for Big Sunday, the city-wide grassroots volunteer non-profit. Surrounded by brightly painted school walls, the work of Big Sunday volunteers over the years, guests celebrated Hancock Park resident Aliza Lesser and Brookside resident Charlie Hess for their service to Big Sunday, along with Kendis Wilbourne, an inaugural board member who now serves as secretary, and corporate sponsor Wells Fargo.
Lesser is a Hancock Park resident who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is an accountant by training and an active volunteer in a wide range of community organizations. Through her love of music and talent as a dancer, Lesser has found her way to serving on the boards of directors of The Colburn School of Performing Arts, Rhapsody in Taps and Los Angeles Choreographers and Dancers. She is a longtime member of Temple Israel of Hollywood, where Big Sunday started in 1999. Lesser and her family were active in Big Sunday from the beginning. When Big Sunday was a one-day-a-year event, Lesser led its very popular knitting project, guiding a roomful of people knitting booties for preemies for a great organization called Stitches from the Heart. She now serves on the Big Sunday Board of Directors, helping with budget and financial planning. Over the years, Lesser has graciously helped with countless Big Sunday initiatives, such as providing bikes for kids for the holidays, meals for vets, greenery at a group home for women, backpacks for low-income kids going back to school, baby items for a young family, Thanksgiving dinner for hungry families, and many more.
Lesser is widely regarded for her easy going style.
“Lesser has long been a wonderful friend to Big Sunday – and, indeed, to all who are lucky enough to know her – and we are so grateful to be able to honor her today,” read Big Sunday’s tribute.
Hess, an award-winning graphic designer and photo editor, and longtime Brookside resident who most recently joined our Buzz hive as a photography contributor, was honored for his volunteer service to Big Sunday since its founding. Hess served as the creative director of the iconic Los Angeles city magazine, Buzz Magazine, and the creative director of Code Magazine, the first high fashion magazine for men of color, before launching his design studio chessdesign.com, focused on art direction for non-profits and magazines.
Hess created Big Sunday’s beloved “hand” logo, adapting it over the years for various shapes and sizes of t-shirts, numbering easily into the thousands, which veterans of Big Sunday events proudly wear year after year. As Big Sunday grew and spun off from Temple Israel and started to work with the office of then- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, it wasn’t long before the hand with a heart could be seen on t-shirts, brochures, billboards, bus stop posters and movie screens.
Over the years, Hess drafted many of his talented photographer friends to take pictures of Big Sunday events from Orange County to Santa Barbara creating powerful and memorable images. As a talented photographer in his own right, Hess has taken countless photographs of Big Sunday events over many years. During COVID, Hess took beautiful portraits of volunteers in the Big Sunday community during the depths of the shutdown. Last April, during the organization’s first Wild ‘n Woolly April, Hess took wonderful portraits of people with their pets, which were not just great mementos, but also helped drive the organization’s large pet food collection.
“Charlie is a great and beloved friend to all who know him,” said David Levinson, resident of Hancock Park and Big Sunday founder. “He is an integral part of Big Sunday, and we would not be where we are today without him.”
Several years ago Hess was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. However, his diagnosis has not deterred him from living life fully. He continues to document LA, the city he loves, on walks with friends. We are thrilled to have his #eyesonLarchmont series in the Buzz. You can see more of his work on Instagram under chessdesign and walkingnla.com.
Levitt and Hess are in the process of making a “Walk With Me,” a documentary feature about living with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
“As hard as it was to live with this diagnosis, it felt worse to hide it, so I convinced my husband to make this film with me,” wrote Levitt, an award recognized producer and casting director. “Through the film making, we will show that our personal story is universal. We will focus on living with dementia (Alzheimer’s being the most common form of disease), rather than showing the end stages more often portrayed in the media. Watching us navigate a vulnerable journey, we hope to dispel the stigma and shame so often associated with dementia which afflicts fifty million people worldwide.”
You can click here to learn more about their film and how to support their efforts.
Here’s how we see Hess most often. We are honored to feature his work in the Larchmont Buzz.
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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One thought on “Big Sunday Honors Local Residents Aliza Lesser and Charlie Hess”
Wonderful article, Patty. Thank you for documenting the great Big Sunday event, celebrating two local heroes!