The Assistance League offers scholarships to the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach and allows disabled children a chance to ride horses. It is one of 15 programs the Assistance League participates in. (Sloan Gallipeo / November 13, 2008)

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Volunteerism and selflessness do not come as a surprise to members of Huntington Beach's vast network of community groups and nonprofit service organizations.

And for this reason the City Council in August recognized Huntington Beach as a "compassionate city." Officials hoped the designation, part of a global movement, would recognize the good deeds already done and encourage more.

"It's a way to highlight all the good that the people in the community do," Councilwoman Connie Boardman said.

British author Karen Armstrong launched the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities in 2009 with the hope that community groups, religious leaders and government officials would collaborate for the public benefit.

"It's about calling [the various groups] together, and about calling other people in the community together, neighbor to neighbor, to practice the Golden Rule," said the Rev. Peggy Price, a founder of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council. "It's found in almost every culture and religion in the world."

Price said Huntington is the first city in Orange County to join the global project, which has the support of dozens of cities around the world, including Seattle, Houston and Cincinnati, as well as Cape Town, South Africa, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Eskilstuna, Sweden.

Ten to 15 groups in Surf City have either joined or shown interest in participating on the Compassionate City Committee, Price said.

The Interfaith Council, the Human Relations Task Force and the Assistance League of Huntington Beach are just a few of the organizations whose members want to brainstorm ideas for better serving the city.

The Interfaith Council, which participates in the annual Blessing of the Waves at the pier, has educated the public about religious tolerance for the past 18 years.Recently, the group has sponsored the Walk to End Genocide and Build Futures, a program that helps homeless and at-risk youths.

"This is breaking new ground for us because, up until now, we have been more about information and education," Price said. "We have done a few things, like a home-build for Habitat for Humanity, but now this is going to be another step in our process of helping."

Boardman said the city also does plenty to assist those within its borders, noting programs at the Central Library and Rodgers Seniors' Center and participation in Project Self Sufficiency, which helps single parents become independent from government assistance.

The councilwoman said thousands of volunteer hours have been put into various charitable causes citywide.

One nonprofit that has made its presence known throughout the community is the Assistance League of Huntington Beach, which began serving residents 64 years ago.

The League, which also aids Fountain Valley and Westminster, has about 15 programs, including scholarships for junior lifeguards, combat veterans and nursing students. It also funds the El Viento program for underprivileged Oak View children.

"The big thing is that we have a broad spectrum of programs and that we really affect every type of child or adult in the community that needs help," spokeswoman Diane Dwyer said.

Dwyer said she hopes more groups and nonprofits join the new committee in the coming months.

"I think it takes a blend of people to get this kicked off," she said. "Everybody has a different take on what's important."