Flower Hill’s ‘Growing Kindness In Sunshine’ shines a light on giving back

A Feeding San Diego garden planted at Flower Hill Promenade as part of the “Growing Kindness in Sunshine” program.
(Karen Billing)

Flower Hill Promenade has been refreshed for the spring and summer with its “Growing Kindness in Sunshine” program. Starting May 1 through August, the four-month long program will feature activities, community and charity events at the center meant to promote good and inspire acts of kindness—not to mention the Instagram-worthy art installations like “Noodling Around with Color,” a rainbow-colored canopy created entirely of re-purposed pool noodles and interactive features like a piano, a Wishing Tree and “Today I Feel,” encouraging people to take an emoticon button from the wall outside Core Power Yoga.

The center has partnered with five impactful charities including Feeding San Diego, Cake4Kids, Word Rocks Project, Charity Wings and Voices of Our City Choir. Events throughout the spring and summer will raise awareness for and support those charities.

“Growing Kindness in Sunshine was created to celebrate the many acts of kindness and to acknowledge those individuals and groups that have contributed and make a difference in our community,” said Rose Jabin, longtime manager of Flower Hill. “It was designed to provide an incredible environment where the community could gather, explore and be inspired.”

A piano beckons at Flower Hill Promenade. Karen Billing

Jeffery Essakow, Flower Hill’s owner, is looking to build on the success of last year’s In Bloom program that activated the center with events and filled Flower Hill with butterflies, playhouses and namesake flowers, winning an award from the California Landscape Contractors Association.

“This year we’ve taken it up a notch,” Essakow said. “We’ve all witnessed and seen the tragedies and chaos throughout the country so we thought this year we’d do something different. We developed the concept of Growing Kindness in Sunshine, the concept that sunshine is to flowers what kindness is to humanity.”

Essakow hopes the good created at Flower Hill will permeate throughout the community and spread the “consciousness of kindness.”

“We can all play our little role in making this a better world in which to live. They say every 10,000 mile journey starts with one small step,” Essakow said. “We want Flower Hill right here in Del Mar to be the first step to create this world.”

This year Essakow is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the charity he co-founded with Bob Babbitt, the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). The effort started out by just wanting to help one friend who was injured to buy a quadriplegic accessible van. CAF has now grown to over $100 million in donations, including a record 2,806 grants this year to give people with challenges the tools they need to pursue active and healthy lifestyles.

Growing Kindness in Sunshine, much like last year’s In Bloom, is also an extended effort toward transforming Flower Hill to combat the ever-growing shift in retail.

“With the onslaught of Amazon and internet retailers, it’s made it very difficult for shopping centers like this…We as landlords have to reinvent themselves and do something different,” Essakow said.

Essakow said his philosophies include partnering with tenants, bringing in new and fresh ideas not just new retailers and creating experiences like he has with Flower Hill, making it a destination people want to be. Essakow’s Protea Properties has been tapped to reinvent Seaport Village in a similar way.

“It’s not just about filling a space, it’s about fulfilling an experience,” he said, noting additions like the children’s play area, games and gathering spaces in the courtyards and bird aviary have made Flower Hill the go-to place for many locals, including his grandkids who call it “Pop’s Mall”.

Essakow hopes that Growing Kindness in Sunshine will shine a light on some of the work being done by the event’s charity partners such as Cake4Kids, which provides custom birthday cakes for underprivileged children.

Executive director Julie Eades said the organization makes birthdays special for kids ages 1-24 years old who are homeless, in transitional or low income housing or are in domestic violence or human trafficking agencies. “A simple gift of baked goods shows love and kindness” she said, noting that one 21-year-old they recently celebrated had never had a birthday cake before.

wishing tree
Wishes in bottles on the Wishing Tree. Karen Billing

Flower Hill will host Cake4Kids charity Cake Walks throughout the summer with the first one held on Saturday, June 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Produce harvested from a vertical garden of herbs and vegetables planted at Flower Hill will be donated to Feeding San Diego and a Mother’s Day Tea will also benefit the organization.

Kelcey Ellis, director of programs for Feeding San Diego, said one in eight people in San Diego don’t know where their next meal is coming from and one in five kids face food insecurity.“We can take $1 and turn it into four meals so a little goes a long way,” Ellis said noting their goal is to fundraise for 10,000 meals this summer.

Nine-year-old philanthropist Ever Matson will also be on site at Flower Hill with her Child Hunger Sucks campaign. Ever hopes to “turn something sad into a solution, something bitter into something sweet,” by selling her rainbow colored candy suckers and fundraising to meet her goal of raising enough money for one million meals.

The Voices of Our City Choir, a San Diego Homeless Choir, is slated to perform on July 14. Co-founded by musician Steph Johnson in 2016, the choir has grown to 65-voices strong and showcases the abilities and potential of every individual, creating a positive sense of community for people facing extreme hardship. In the year and five months they have been singing, the organization has connected 27 people to housing.

In Sunshine events will include Maker’s Bazaars on select Saturdays every month—the first one will be held on Saturday, May 12, with more than 25 vendors throughout the center’s courtyards as well as a petting zoo, balloon creations, face painting and live music.

Several Saturdays will also be devoted to Random Crafts of Kindness with Charity Wings in the mall’s Maker Space as well as opportunities to participate in the Word Rocks Project, writing messages of kindness on a colorfully painted rock to place out in the community.

“One kind word can change someone’s life,” said Word Rock founder Carol Arêas “Together we can make the ripples of kindness grow in the world.”

To keep track of In Sunshine events, visit the calendar at