Roots & Wings Online

Muffins for Maui: Compassion and Action Inspire Community at Home in Ladera

Jessica Rusinkovich learned from a young age how to be compassionate. Her parents, special education teachers, led by example. Jessica recalls that her parents emphasized the importance of actions over words. Their lives were an example of service in action.

Jessica was heartbroken when she watched the news footage of Maui ablaze and the scenes of a devastated Maui in the aftermath. Jessica and her husband, Jake had honeymooned in Maui and had returned with their children this summer to spend their entire vacation in the Lahaina area.

Jessica wanted to do something to help, but what could a schoolteacher with a small baking side business do?

The next day, Jessica shared her idea with Jake to bake muffins and give 100% of all orders to help Maui. He encouraged Jessica to move forward with her idea and said, “Go for it!” The following day, Jessica posted her idea for “Muffins for Maui” on the Ladera Ranch Moms Facebook page, mentioning that she would have the muffins on the Saturday of that week.

Within 24 hours, she had over 100 orders for homemade muffins, with donations going to Maui.

Other Ladera moms who saw the incredible support from the community volunteered to drop off flour, sugar, and bananas to help with the demand. On Saturday, August 19, Jessica baked and distributed over 50 dozen muffins at her doorstep alone, with all proceeds going to Maui. Muffins for Maui was a success!

Although Jessica owns only two muffin pans, she used 232 bananas to make 112 dozen muffins and donated all $3,025.00 to the Maui Strong Fund

Leading by example and her actions, Jessica is following in her parent's footsteps – not only as a special education professional but as someone who serves others compassionately. As a mother of two young children, Jessica says, “It’s a priority to teach and show them that we must love, nurture, and help others when possible.”

Interview with Jessica Rusinkovich

How long have you lived in Ladera, and how did you discover the community?

After we had our second child in November 2020, we outgrew our small condo. My husband and I searched online daily, looking for houses that were popping up on the market, but not having any luck. One day, my husband said he had found the perfect home in Ladera Ranch. He showed me the house, and we put in an offer. Our offer was accepted on my birthday, and we got the house! We have been in Ladera since March of 2021. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

What drew you to special education, and what do you wish everyone knew about your kids (students)?

I have been fortunate to be around the special education field my entire life. My parents worked in special education, and I remember as a young kid attending the bake sales, events, and even prom at the schools my parents worked at. My parents taught me at a young age that compassion towards and acceptance of others was an important part of life.

At first, I was determined to enter a different field than my parents, so I began as a nursing major. Although I learned quickly, I didn’t like the sight of blood. Then, following a terrible car accident that I survived, I had an ‘Ah-ha’ moment, and changed my major to Liberal Studies and pursued a teaching career because that was where I felt the most at “home.” 

As I worked towards my special ed credential, I also worked as an elementary special ed classroom aide. I loved it! Two credentials and a master’s in special education later, I know that I am in the right place.  

I would tell people never to underestimate a person's ability - with or without a disability. I have been a part of some amazing student stories, and I believe with high expectations, determination, and a lot of love, everyone can be driven to be successful in their own way. 

What have you learned about compassion over the past few years?

Compassion has been instilled in me since a young age. I volunteered at a nursing home in middle school and would visit people in their rooms. I remember Betty, who spent much of her time in a wheelchair. She never had family visitors. I felt sad for her and wanted to bring some joy to her. I visited Betty regularly. In high school, I volunteered at the Children’s Hospital nearby and always felt good, doing good for others.

I have two young children now, and my priority is to teach and show them that we must love, nurture, and help others when possible. My two-year-old son and I participated in Bradley’s Honor Walk a few months ago. I admire and continue to respect the work that has been fulfilled with Bradley’s Bouquets, and I want my children to know that giving back to the community is very important at any age.

Were there any surprises along the way with Muffins for Maui?

Yes! My goal was to bake 20 dozen muffins. I was absolutely shocked by the amount of people who wanted muffins, but I committed to doing something to support Maui. Within 24 hours, I had requests for over 100 dozen muffins. I was extremely thrilled but overwhelmed. I knew I needed to start baking ASAP to fulfill all the orders. I went to the store on Monday afternoon, bought all my supplies, and started baking. Once the muffins were removed from the oven, I would message neighbors to come pick them up. I did this for several days while beginning the first week of school. 

I requested supplies from moms on the local Facebook page since I quickly ran out of all the basic ingredients. I would come home from school, and bananas, flour, and sugar were on my doorstep. The thought that came to mind was, “This is Ladera!” Then, I had a generous donation of all remaining supplies to fulfill all my orders from a doctor in our community, Dr. Otto Liao. I had never met or spoken to him, but he supplied all my remaining ingredients to make 112 dozen muffins. Again, with a grateful heart, I thought, “This is Ladera!”

Two Ladera moms reached out to help bake muffins to fulfill the orders. I gave the secret family recipe to one mom and mixed batter for another mom to come and bake for me. Again, the words that came to mind were, “This is Ladera.” On Saturday afternoon, we had a drive-by for Muffins for Maui pickup. So many people shared how they had felt they wanted to do something for Maui but weren’t sure what, so they were happy to support Muffins for Maui. Our community is a beautiful hometown; this is our beloved Ladera Ranch! 

Who influenced you to be compassionate or to serve others?

My parents have impacted me most significantly, instilling compassion and a desire to serve others. My parents worked full-time in special education, yet they always put their family first and helped others second. They led by example and by their actions. Our children observe everything we say or do, good or bad. By my example, I want my children, Autumn and Otto, to see how to be compassionate and kind to others. I want them to see through Muffins for Maui or any other fundraiser or charity event that we participate in that we can make a difference, even if it’s baking muffins to help, encourage, and love others we may never meet.