“Christmas at The Ritz’s” Farewell to a Beloved Landmark

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Women of Chapman's 2013 "Christmas at The Ritz" committee, including chair Karly Brown and event co-founder Charlene Prager

Women of Chapman’s 2013 “Christmas at The Ritz” committee, including chair Karly Brown and event co-founder Charlene Prager, front row, center left and right

It was a festive time. It was a poignant time. The 377 guests who attended the Women of Chapman’s 27th Annual “Christmas at The Ritz” holiday fundraiser at The Ritz Restaurant & Garden in Newport Beach did so with bittersweet feelings, knowing it was the final benefit at that location. Having established the beloved fundraiser at the landmark eatery 27 years earlier, thanks to the generosity of the late Hans Prager and his wife and Women of Chapman member Charlene Prager, the benefit had become a much-heralded affair, becoming the place people wanted to be to welcome the Christmas season with a good dose of holiday cheer for a great cause.

People came for the camaraderie, The Ritz Egg, the Wild Mushroom “Cappuccino” Soup, the fabulous opportunity prizes – more about that later! – the cheery fresh faces of the Chapman Student Ambassadors, who help out every year, and the fashions. Any time Neiman Marcus is involved, you know there is going to be a star-studded fashion offering, and this year was no exception, thanks to the luxury store’s PR Director Michaele Hall. Add to that Chapman President Jim Doti’s heartwarming remarks, and everything’s right with the world! This year, Doti had a little extra ammo with the announcement of a $10+ million gift from James and Catherine Emmi. The couple is always among the generous underwriters for the holiday affair, with Catherine a longtime Women of Chapman member. Their gift, Doti announced, was to given to support the university’s significant expansion in the sciences.

“Christmas at The Ritz” chair Karly Brown, looking resplendent in an elegant winter white dress, welcomed everyone and thanked her committee, for which I am a proud member. The ladies making it happen included Laura Baratta, Adrienne Brandes, Donna Calvert, Leslie Cancellieri, Valerie Cope, Barbara Eidson, Kathy Hamilton, Marci Hollander, Rusty Hood, Sue Hook, Nora Jorgensen Johnson, Anne Manassero, Mona Nesseth, Charlene Prager, Kim Smith, Christine Sullivan, WOC President Donna Bianchi, and yours truly. I must state that the committee felt strongly about honoring The Ritz’s Managing Partner Ray Jacobi and Private Party Manager Sharon Virtue for the their constant support and generosity over the years. The beautiful wine-filled holiday baskets we gave them hardly seemed enough.

The opportunity prizes were quite the draw, as a magnificent lapis lazuli life-size heron from W. Constantin Wild & Co. in Ider-Oberstein, Germany, was won by opera star and Chapman professor??? Milena Kitic. The Deluxe Wine Country Package, which included a two-night stay at the four-star Vintner’s Inn, dinner at Peter Keller’s famous Bouchon Restaurant, and a private one-day wine tour, via Platypus Tours, of top-notch wineries in either Napa/Sonoma or Russian River/Healdsburg. Ferrai-Carano, Cline, Duckhorn, Chalk Hill, Foley-Johnson, Schramsberg and William Seylem were a sampling of the prestigious offerings. WOC member Maria Francis was the lucky winner, and, from what I understand, she took her whole family on the trip, with raves all-round.

Another popular item was the “John Wayne American” bronze sculpture by sculptor David Manuel, as well as an evening for 15 at Leur Lab Integrated Aesthetics in Newport Beach, a David Yurman black onyx, pearl and hematite necklace, dinner at Tony Duquette’s legendary Dawnridge estate in Beverly Hills, a beautiful oil on canvas painting by artist and WOC member Georgeana Ireland Mayle, a Reed Krakoff handbag from Saks Fifth Avenue, a Cynthia DeBaun-designed Baroque freshwater pearl necklace, a Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza fashion and master makeup day for six with lunch at Charlie Palmer, the always-popular South Coast Plaza $1,000 gift certificate and one-year valet pass, $1,000 shopping sprees from Mi Place and Neiman Marcus, a martini party for 25, thanks to Jonathan Ratter, and a Lakers game for four and overnight stay at the Jonathan Club.

Major underwriters for the benefit included Marybelle and S. Paul Musco, Janet Curci, Sally Segerstrom, Zee Allred, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Carole and Robert Follman, Rusty and Bill Hood, Shelley Wankier Hupp, Donna and Dave Janes, Joann Leatherby, Kim Smith/Smith-Walker Foundation, Deedee and Don Sodaro, Laura Baratta, Donna Bianchi and Daniel Avidan, Sandra Brodie, Karly Brown, Donna Calvert, and Dino and Leslie Cancellieri. Combined with many other generous donors, the net proceeds for the affair reached more than $191,000, with monies slated for Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts and Dodge College’s Chapman Studios. The gift favors included a gorgeous miniature Jay Strongwater enamel and gem encrusted frame for the ladies, courtesy of Neiman Marcus, and a first-class cigar for the gents from Hi-Time Cellars and committee member Mona Nesseth.

As I end my story, I wanted to say that even with the demise of The Ritz Restaurant at that location, the fundraiser will continue next year. The benefit is the Women of Chapman’s only means of raising money for Chapman University, so know that next December 6, 2014, “Christmas at The Ritz” will be recreated at a place to be determined. The event committee, headed by the talented and ever-resourceful Adrienne Brandes, has already met and is planning a great party. Just know the holidays will be welcomed in grand style once again!

Selected photos by Peggy O’Donnell and John Saade

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Lugano Diamonds’ Soiree Benefits CASA

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Thanks to luxury jeweler Lugano Diamonds, underwriters and sponsors for Court Appointed Special Advocates’ (CASA) upcoming Black & White Ball were invited to an elegant party at its Newport Beach location. With assistance from Linda Young’s Elite OC Productions, guests entered a beautiful white tent just outside the Lugano Diamonds showroom, where tulips of champagne were offered and lounge seating on modern white leather and chrome furniture was provided, while a talented pianist tickled the ivories on a baby grand piano. With the stunning black banded contemporary chandeliers sparkling, guests donated a bottle of wine to the Black & White Ball’s wine auction and those so inclined enjoyed the cigar bar, cutting their own cigars and enjoying a smoke outside.

Once inside the elegant Lugano Diamonds surroundings, located on the bottom floor of the multi-tiered high-rise, guests were greeted by Lugano Diamond’s owners Moti and Idit Ferder. While marveling at  the magnificent jewelry, the partygoers enjoying a delicious assortment of Asian-inspired cuisine, catered by the Island Hotel. The Peking Duck was a particular favorite, as well as the chicken and beef skewers and the handmade-on-the-spot sushi by an accompanying sushi chef. Desserts of fruit tarts, bite-size cheesecake, chocolate confections, and more, satisfied everyone’s sweet tooth. A full bar offered guests their choice of drinks, and the William Cole Vineyards in Napa Valley offered a wine tasting, as well as providing its highly-rated wines for the party. Lugano’s walk-in vault was quite the draw, as guests enjoyed lounging in it, while a gifted guitarist provided background music.

Larry Wilson, CASA’s Black & White Ball Advocate of the Year, spoke about his love for CASA, and CASA board of director members Ted Nark and Mark Steiman acknowledged CASA’s success in training advocates to serve as mentors for the community’s most severely abused, abandoned and neglected children. Lugano Diamonds’ Vice President Stuart Winston’s gracious remarks touched all as he reiterated the jeweler’s commitment to supporting the nonprofit. Among those deeply touched were the Black & White Ball’s chairs Wendy Tenebaum and Lourdes Nark.

Photos courtesy of Teresa Taylor

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‘Creating Hope’ Gala Does Just That!

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Joining me at the Alzheimer's Association of Orange County's "Creating Hope" Gala was President/CEO Jim McAleer

Joining me at the Alzheimer’s Association of Orange County’s “Creating Hope” Gala was President/CEO Jim McAleer

The Alzheimer’s Association Orange County’s “Creating Hope” Gala at the Balboa Bay Resort was indeed a hopeful affair. The nonprofit is the primary resource in the county for patients and families battling Alzheimer’s by offering free services, including a 24/7 helpline, support groups, research trials, and educational materials, so that no matter the diagnosis, families and patients should always hold onto hope. The 300-guest fundraiser netted an impressive $380,000 towards that end, with a gigantic boost from Karl and Tina Weber, who generously gave a gift of $250,000. Before I tell you about the inspiring, wonderfully fun gala, I want to say how impressed I am with Jim McAleer, who serves as the President/CEO of Alzheimer’s Association Orange County. With the nonprofit for nearly 10 years, he has been instrumental in the growth of the chapter, from donors and volunteers to its amazing staff. Jim told me the Orange County chapter is tops out of 76 chapters in the nation for Media Impressions, Physician Outreach and Research Donations. That’s impressive! You just can’t say no to Jim. Who can resist that smile?!

Now, about the gala, guests were greeted during the cocktail reception by “framed” volunteers, who each held a large picture frame across one shoulder dressed as famous people, such as Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Dr. Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, Rosie the Riveter, etc. They represented “hope” with what they accomplished and thus the gala’s ‘creating hope’ theme. Many guests posed with them. Purple martinis (the Alzheimer’s Association’s official color) drew many takers, as did the photo opportunity inside a huge silver frame with a variety of purple props, and, outside on the patio, a lovely young lady performed some amazing feats with fire.

The ballroom design was spectacular, thanks to Linda Young’s Elite OC Productions, who draped the ballroom walls in white with purple and pink uplighting and created a mix of rectangular and round tables draped either in purple linens or a silver/gray fabric. Along the walls, silver-gray wrapped tables were featured on raised platforms with white banquette seating against the walls and ghost chairs on the opposite side. Together with white floral centerpieces and LED lights changing colors, it was a statement. Following an impressive Cirque du Soleil-style two-person balancing act, McAleer welcomed everyone and thanked the gala sponsors, in particular, Presenting Sponsor, the Argyros Family Foundation, the Webers, the board of directors, Linda Young, the volunteers and staff, especially AAOC’s Associate VP of Development Margie White and CFO Kathleen Scatton, to whom he wished a happy birthday. Board Chairman Michelle Egerer stepped to the podium to introduce a heartwarming video showing Alzheimer’s Association’s work worldwide giving hope for treatment and a cure.

Gala chairs Dave and Eydie MacInnis shared their story of how Alzheimer’s has affected their lives through Dave’s father and Eydie’s mother and how AAOC has been so supportive. The honorees, who have all been touched by Alzheimer’s, were then introduced, with Dave recognizing Community Partner, Jeanne and Brett Lawrence. The Lawrences were thanked for offering their exotic Rancho Las Lomas site for many AAOC fundraisers. Having lost Rick Lawrence, Jeanne’s husband and Brett’s father, to Alzheimer’s after a long illness, Jeanne thanked McAleer and AAOC for being “an anchor.” Jody Hudson of First American Trust was honored as Volunteer Partner, with Hudson acknowledging AAOC as a “wonderful resource for our family.” Don Palmer, recognized as Philanthropy Partner, vowed to support the Alzheimer’s cause after his father-in-law developed the disease. “I’m impressed with the progress being made,” Palmer said, who was given a round of applause when it was acknowledged he was spending his 80th birthday at the gala. Lastly, Jacqueline Dupont, a 15-year AAOC board member, was honored as Corporate Partner for the generous resources she has deployed to AAOC through her businesses, Irvine Cottages and Assured in Home Care. Having had her grandfather die from the disease, she founded Irvine Cottages for him, she said. McAleer said, “When I need clinical advice for our families, Jacque is always there – at 2 o’clock in the morning!”

Auctioneer Zack Krone worked his magic in the live auction and Fund-A-Need portions of the evening, and Jeanne Lawrence’s other son, Richard Lawrence II, won the raffle prize, four Diamond Club seats with VIP parking at an Angels vs. Indians game. Guest artist Taylor Hicks, Season 5 American Idol winner, entertained, oft times with harmonica in hand, singing his signature blend of blues and country, with Elton John’s “Levon” and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So” part of the mix. All in all, the gala was a more than hopeful tribute to the work Alzheimer’s Association Orange County is doing in the arena of treatment and a cure for a disease that touches all of us.

Selected photos by Ashleigh Magnus and John Gilhooley

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Soiree in the Vineyard Great Fun!

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Joining me at the OC Food Bank's "Soiree in the Vineyard" were, from left, Jeannie, Ruth Ann and Richard Moriarty

Joining me at the Orange County Food Bank’s “Soiree in the Vineyard” were, from left, Jeannie, Ruth Ann and Richard Moriarty

The Orange County Food Bank’s “Soiree in the Vineyards to End Hunger in Orange County” was a family affair, with vineyard owner Richard Moriarty holding forth at his Newport Beach Vineyards & Winery in Newport Beach, his sister Jeanne Moriarty chairing the nonprofit fundraiser and their mother, Ruth Ann Moriarty, attending to support her children’s efforts.

Richard welcomed sponsors and underwriters at a VIP reception in his garage. It’s not your normal garage, mind you. It houses a ’61 Jaguar, an ’84 Maserati Quattroporte, a ’74 Porsche, and a ’96 Pontiac Trans AM. And, then there’s the Lamborghini stand-alone engine that Richard cranked up to get everyone’s attention after they’d had a few glasses of his Bordeaux-style wines, which he grows on the premises. Maybe you didn’t know there was a vineyard and winery in Newport Beach! Richard introduced Antonello Ristorante chefs Gino Buonanoce and Salvatore Ferrara, who were preparing risotto by tossing hot arborio rice with butter inside a huge wheel of Parmesan cheese and topping it with black truffle shavings. I have never seen such big truffle shavings! Needless to say, the risotto was divine! Those interested in seeing Richard’s Lamborghini (yes, a real car) mounted on the wall in his home above his private wine cellar provided some fun photo ops.

The festivities for the 150-guest party continued in the vineyard, where saxophonist Jerry Mandel and his fellow jazz musician friends entertained, and appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts were offered buffet-style, as well as a plethora of wines from several tasting bars. Guests especially enjoyed visiting the winery’s wine cave, where the wines are barrel-fermented. Jeanne introduced Orange County Food Bank’s Director Mark Lowry, who said the nonprofit’s 48-year history includes distributing nearly 20 million pounds of food annually to 400 nonprofit agencies throughout the county, including soup kitchens, churches, shelters, and social service agencies. Jeanne, involved with the nonprofit since 2011, said, “When I heard that one out of four children in Orange County are hungry, that’s when I became involved.”

Auctioneer Jim Nye presided over a spontaneous “Wild Card Live Auction,” which drew such offerings as studio time with a music producer, a flight to Catalina, a private dinner with Chef Pascal Olhats, and a South Coast Plaza VIP shopping experience. Together with a “Fund a Need” call for donations, the effort surpassed its fundraising goal of $50,000. Hear, Hear!

Selected photos by Peggy & Patrick McDonnell

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High Tea, Indeed!

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Joining me at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House High Tea and Fashion Show was Executive Director Deborah Levy and McDonald's owner/operator and past tea chair Isabelle Villasenor

Joining me at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House High Tea and Fashion Show was Executive Director Deborah Levy and McDonald’s owner/operator, OCRMH board of trustees member and past tea chair Isabelle Villasenor

The Orange County Ronald McDonald House High Tea and Fashion Show is always great fun – and for such a worthy cause! I’ll cut right to the chase here. When Jody Weisberg spoke at the elegant affair at the Island Hotel in Newport Beach, my heart caught in my throat. This man was holding his beautiful young son Tosh, who at the time of the tea was 19 months old (see photo of them), and we learned as Jody spoke that he had lost his wife Megan during his son’s delivery due to an extremely rare condition that proved fatal. Tosh was born unresponsive and stillborn. Deprived of oxygen for a minute and a half, he was resuscitated, and that led to three weeks spent at CHOC, where Tosh had treatments for brain swelling and neurological damage, while his father was close by at the Ronald McDonald House. Remarkably, Tosh was released in stable condition three weeks later. Toby said Tosh received wonderful care and that the RMH staff helped him through some trying times. “The doctors and nurses said Tosh was a miracle,” he said. “With my wife’s passing, I was hoping something good would come from it.” Seeing this loving father with his beautiful, blonde-haired son confirmed his wish.

The fashionable soiree attracted 390 guests to the 24th annual high tea, which featured a very tasty assortment of tea sandwiches and pastries. The fresh-baked scones with Devonshire cream and fruit preserves are always a favorite of mine. I especially liked the gorgeous centerpieces with pink anthuriums and other exotic pink florals, and the event favor, an offering of two flavorful teas from Tea Forte’s World of Teas, was the perfect gift! Master of Ceremonies Zack Krone welcomed everyone and lauded the work of OC Ronald McDonald House and its 24-year history of providing a “home-away-from home” for more than 20,000 families so they can stay close to their hospitalized child at little or no cost.

McDonald’s owner/operator and RMH board member Patti Widdicombe thanked the McDonald’s family, which included restaurant owner/operators, suppliers and corporate attendees, as well as Fred Hill, former Philadelphia Eagles football star, who, along with his team and McDonald’s, built the first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia in 1973. My dear friend, Isabelle Villasenor, who is a McDonald’s owner/operator with her two daughters Jenny Briones and Lisa DeBono, has chaired the tea multiple times in past years and is an OCRMH board of trustees member. This year she stepped back to let her daughters take a more active role on the tea committee, so Briones and DeBono thanked the many event sponsors and presented the top donors with a custom piece of artwork created by a child who stayed at the Orange County Ronald McDonald House. Krone led the live auction, which featured getaways to New Orleans and, more locally, to Montage Laguna Beach and The Resort at Pelican Hill. The “first-in-line-for-valet-parking” auction item was a big hit, with two winners each paying $200 for the privilege – Dr. German and RMH supporter Lois Secor. Also a hot ticket was the opportunity prize – a $1,000 Fashion Island shopping spree, which was won by guest Nichole Enearu.

With Fashion Island once again the tea’s fashion partner, the runway was filled with models wearing fashions from the upscale retail center. Casual to evening looks for women were featured from the following stores: Babakul, Bloomingdale’s, Johnny Was, Joie, and Rebecca Taylor. Ronald McDonald, in his iconic outfit, could not help but strut his stuff on the runway with a particularly fetching young model.

OCRMH’s Executive Director Deborah Levy thanked her staff, especially Special Events Manager Aly Hudspeth and Philanthropy Coordinator Virginia Schacher, and the volunteers, and, in introducing Jody Weisberg, said, “When I met Jody at the Ronald McDonald House, he was filled with such anguish, but I assured him Ronald McDonald House would provide him and his family a place of solace, comfort and support.” This amazing nonprofit provides solace, comfort and support to more than 2,000 families with seriously ill children annually. That’s a pretty impressive statistic! Net proceeds of $123,815 were raised at the tea. That’s pretty impressive too!

Selected photos by Jon Didier

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National Philanthropy Day, Orange County Style!

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National Philanthropy Day, Orange County Chapter's 2013 honorees

National Philanthropy Day-Orange County’s 2013 honorees: First Row, from left, Victoria Collins (Outstanding Philanthropist), Amanda Fowler (Edwards Lifesciences Corporation for Outstanding Large Corporation), Natalie Cernius (Outstanding Youth), Karen Raab (Chemers Gallery for Outstanding Small Corporation), Jeff Scheibner (Roosters Foundation of OC for Outstanding Philanthropic Group); Second Row, from left: Margie Wakeham (Outstanding Founder for Families Forward), Mary Lynn Coffee (Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser), Rick Smetanka and Wayne Pinnell (Haskell & White LLP for Outstanding Mid-Size Corporation). Recipients of the 25th Anniversary Sponsor Award, Eric Spitz and Aaron Kushner, co-owners of the OC Register, are not pictured.

National Philanthropy Day is celebrated every year in all 50 states and three countries – Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom – but, did you know that the charity and recognition event was founded by an Orange County man – philanthropist and attorney Doug Freeman. It took Freeman five years to ultimately have then-President Ronald Reagan sign a proclamation on Nov. 15, 1986 declaring National Philanthropy Day be officially recognized. NPD has been celebrated on a day during the last two weeks of November from that year forward. “I’m really thrilled that the intention to say ‘thank you’ is still being honored,” Freeman said at the celebration held at the Hyatt Regency Irvine last November.

The “Giving is Always in Season”-themed affair drew 900 attendees to the 28th Annual National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon, with the Young Americans song and dance team giving a spirited performance as guests were seated. The event was produced by the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals with two of its members, Sheri Nazaroff and Kristine Peters, co-chairing the affair, and PBS SoCal’s Maria Hall-Brown and PBS SoCal’s and Orange County Business Journal’s Rick Reiff serving as mistress and master of ceremonies, respectively. Each honoree was lauded in a video tribute and presented a piece of art glass in the shape of a heart, created by Laguna Beach artist John Barber.

Tim Bauer, Association of Fundraising Professionals of Orange County Chapter President, welcomed everyone and stated that AFP International, the largest association of professionals fundraisers in the world, has 30,000 members in more than 230 chapters worldwide. “Since the beginning of AFP in 1960,” Bauer said, “it has helped fundraisers to generate more than $1 Trillion in charitable gifts and donations, and APF international members raise more than $1 Billion every year for charitable causes.”

Bauer presented the first award, the Outstanding Youth honor, to 17-year-old Natalie Cernius, who founded the Friday Night Club, where high school students could earn community service hours by spending quality, social time with teens with special needs. For the first time, AFP-OC designated a $2,500 award to Cernius for the charity of her choice, which she named as United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County. AFP-OC also presented Cernius with a $750 check for her continuing development and education.

PBS President & CEO Mel Rogers presented the Outstanding Philanthropic Group award to the Roosters Foundation of Orange County, with President Jeff Scheibner accepting. Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries Dean, Charlene Baldwin, presented the Outstanding Small Corporation award to Tustin-based Chemers Gallery and its owner Karen Raab. Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser went to Mary Lynn Coffee for her work with THINK Together (Teaching, Helping, Inspiring, Nurturing Kids Together), which grew from serving 2,000 Orange County children in under-resourced communities in 2003 to more than 100,000 children statewide.

Doug Freeman presented the 25th Anniversary Sponsor Award to the Orange County Register for their 25 years of sponsorship of the event. Accepting was Freedom Communications’ President and Register co-owner Eric Spitz and Freedom Communications’ CEO and Register co-owner Aaron Kushner. Freeman lauded the Register for its Gift Cheque Program in issuing $12.4 million in gift cheques to their subscribers to gift their favorite charities to redeem for advertising. “Our mission is to support and build Orange County,” Spitz said.

Haskell & White LLP was honored as Outstanding Mid-Size Corporation, with Managing Partner Wayne Pinnell and Partner-in-Charge of Audit and Business Advisory Services Group Rick Smetanka. Edwards Lifesciences Corporation was the recipient of the Outstanding Large Corporation award, with Vice President of Tax, Ed Tarle accepting. Margie Wakeham, founder and executive director of Families Forward, accepted the award for Outstanding Founder. Presenter Shelley Hoss of the Orange County Community Foundation called Wakeham a “force of nature and an Orange County institution.” Victoria Collins, who was honored as Outstanding Philanthropist, was presented the honor by Human Options Co-Founder and Executive Director Vivian Clecak, who said of her, “Victoria is the essence of philanthropy.”

Joann Leatherby, 2012 NPD-OC’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, spoke on the “Heart of a Philanthropist,” saying, “Philanthropists are people making a difference by identifying the problem, seeing a solution, and doing whatever it takes to bring it to fruition.” Her remarks summed up the lives of the honorees and many of the people in the ballroom. Orange County is fortunate to have so many philanthropists willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen!

The luncheon realized net proceeds of $35,000, which were targeted for AFP-OC’s programs to promote the ethical advancement of philanthropy in the community.

Selected photos by Carla Rhea and Robert Rooks

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Childhelp Benefit Tugs at the Heart Strings

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Joining me at Childhelp's Holiday Boutique and Luncheon was its featured speaker and Childhelp graduate Stephanie Canada

Joining me at Childhelp’s Holiday Boutique and Luncheon was its featured speaker and Childhelp graduate Stephanie Canada

It was hard to believe the beautiful young girl standing on the dias at Childhelp’s Annual Holiday Boutique and Luncheon had been through the terrible things she talked about as she told about her life. Stephanie Canada came to Childhelp four years ago, she said, after years of abuse and neglect. Coming from a family of eight, with a mother addicted to cocaine and a father with whom she had no relationship, Stephanie was put in foster care after her mother died in a hotel fire and she lost her dad in 2007. “I still loved her even though she wasn’t the best mom,” she said. The worst was yet to come. Stephanie went to eight foster homes, where she was sexually abused, until one day a social worker took her to the Childhelp Costa Mesa Group Home. “My life changed that day,” Stephanie said. “If it weren’t for that place, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” Along the way, Stephanie met her mentor Diana Miner, a longtime member of Childhelp’s Orange County Chapter, who encouraged her to achieve good grades and to focus on her education. Stephanie graduated high school with top honors and is seeking her license as a radiology technician, while making plans for pursuing a college degree. “I have the world because I was saved,” she concluded.

Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in The Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel ballroom when Stephanie left the stage. Her message brought Childhelp’s mission home to the sold-out event with its 450 guests, and $176,811 was raised in net proceeds for the cause of helping victims of abuse and neglect, as well as at-risk children through advocacy, prevention, treatment, and community outreach.

The holiday boutique always features wonderful gifts, including one-of-a-kind theme baskets handcrafted by Childhelp members, and the very popular “Santa’s Kitchen” with its tasty homemade confections is always a crowd-pleaser. Also helping the bottom line were the 23 boutique vendors selling jewelry, fashions and many holiday items, while giving a percentage of their sales to Childhelp. Several luxury items were showcased in the opportunity prize drawing, which saw Eve Kornyei Ruffatto win a gorgeous blue Louis Vuitton handbag and Kristina Lee the David Yurman sterling silver necklace and earring set (see their photos). The grand prize drawing, a $2,000 South Coast Plaza shopping spree with a one-year VIP valet parking pass, also brought in the dollars. A very happy guest, Barbara Zilli, won the coveted prize.

Images Salon of Corona del Mar was honored with a special award, thanks to their annual cut-a-thon and its proceeds of $14,225 raised for Childhelp. Since 2002, the salon has raised an impressive $140,000 for the nonprofit. Accepting the honor was Ron, Al, and Michele Perez and Mark McArdel.

Among those helping organize the fundraiser were its co-chairs Joy Whitlock-Estrada and Gina Van Ocker, who jointly thanked their committee, which included Cleo Bluth, Linda Brechtel, Nancy Cardin, Mary Allyn Dexter, Patti Edwards, Gwen Forquer, Jennifer Kite, Michelle Langston, Jill Leone-Glick, Katherine Meredith, Diana Miner, Pam Pharris, Joyce Simon, Shan Vincent, Debra Violette, Nancy Whitlock, and chapter president Kristen James. 

Selected photos by Ann Chatillon

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Burger Time at Bloomies!

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Joining me at the Bloomingdale's/Charlie Palmer Burger Challenge was the store's PR Manager Jaime Strong, Costa Mesa Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Vasin and Chef Charlie Palmer

Joining me at the Bloomingdale’s/Charlie Palmer’s Burger Challenge was the store’s PR Manager Jaime Strong, Costa Mesa Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Vasin and Burger Challenge judge and Chef Charlie Palmer

Who knew firemen could cook such good burgers?! I was really impressed with the Costa Mesa Fire Department’s efforts to participate in Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza’s Burger Challenge to help needy children and their families. As it turned out, it was the third annual challenge held at Bloomingdale’s Culinary Kitchen and also the third year Charlie Palmer’s at Bloomingdale’s played co-host. Well known Chef Charlie Palmer himself attended, acting as a delightful emcee and one of the three judges. The other guest judges included Nancy Luna, Orange County Register food reporter, and Tim Vasin, CMFD’s Battalion Chief.

The participating firemen, divided into two teams called Team Todd and Team Steve, had great fun chiding one another as they cooked up their burgers, and Palmer never missed a beat to ramp up the challenge. I spotted Bloomingdale’s Vice President/General Manager Jim Murphy and Charlie Palmer’s Executive Chef Seakyeong Kim enjoying the festivities. Costa Mesa policeman Bill Adams told me he heard about the burger challenge on television and thought it would good fun. Friends and families of the firemen were a great deal of the audience, cheering on their favorite team. Guests who donated money for the charity effort and to watch the challenge got to sample the burgers. Charlie Palmer waiters served pink lemonade and iced tea while everyone was enjoying the challenge.

When it came time to announce the winner, Palmer said it was like “splitting hairs” or “picking your favorite child.” The judges picked Team Todd and their “Italian Stallion Burger,” while the other burger, Team Steve’s “Mac & Cheese Crater Burger” was selected as the audience favorite. So, I guess they both won! The Italian Stallion Burger was featured at Charlie Palmer’s restaurant’s DG Burger, the restaurant’s 40-seat adjunct burger joint, the following month, and one dollar was donated for every Costa Mesa Fire Department burger eaten to Santa Letters, a division of the Costa Mesa Firefighters’ Association Charity Fund.

Immediately following the challenge at Bloomingdale’s, five couples, who each gave $1,000 to raise money for Santa Letters, were invited to a four-course dinner at Charlie Palmer’s hosted by the charming Palmer. The combined food events raised $11,500, with the South Coast Plaza restaurant generously donating the $3,500 in food costs. The money provided 20 needy Costa Mesa families with gifts, clothes, food, and household items for the Christmas holidays, with the firefighters delivering the gifts to the families on December 23rd. What a nice ending to a fun burger challenge!

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Neiman Marcus Touts Arts Education

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Joining me at the Neiman Marcus fundraiser for the Irvine Public Schools Foundation were Neiman's Director of Public Relations Michaele Hall and Irvine Unified School District board member Lauren Brooks

Joining me at the Neiman Marcus fundraiser for the Irvine Public Schools Foundation were Neiman’s Director of Public Relations Michaele Hall, left, and Irvine Public Schools Foundation President/CEO Neda Eaton

It was the first time the luxury brand Neiman Marcus donated a percentage of sales to a philanthropic organization. And, that’s a long history! The store was established in 1907. Michaele Hall, Fashion Island’s Neiman Marcus Director of Public Relations, told me about the brand’s new focus and invited me to an instore event benefiting the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s music education program.

The lovely evening reception drew IPSF board members, supporters and Neiman Marcus clients to enjoy shopping for a good cause, as well as entertainment by two groups of talented string players from the school district playing selections of Pachelbel, Dvorak and Morricone. Some of the attendees brought their children, and good thing too, because the refreshments were geared to childhood favorites – caramel apples, s’mores on a stick, red velvet cupcakes, candied popcorn in whimsical polka dot cups, mini gingerbread men, as well as liquid chocolate with miniature marshmallows, hot cider and Ty Nant sparkling water in vibrant red bottles with mustache straws – adorable!

Shopping specifically for the Irvine Public Schools Foundation involved the Ken Downing Gift Collection, which was created by Neiman Marcus’s Fashion Director Ken Downing. He curated a gift collection of 37 gifts ranging in price from $32 to $1800, and 10% of sales in all 41 stores nationwide through the following month benefited the local charities throughout the country, in the case of the Newport Beach store, the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

It was a win-win for everyone. Representatives from IPSF were thrilled with the support, and the gift buying pleased everyone. Who wouldn’t be happy with such retail offerings as those from Chanel, John Hardy, Ippolita, Alexis Bittar, Michael Kors, Tom Ford Beauty, Tory Burch, Stella McCartney, and many more.

Other Irvine residents supporting the cause included Steffanie Early, IPSF’s Director of Community Relations, Lauren Brooks, board of education member of the Irvine Unified School District, and Beth Krom, City of Irvine councilwoman.

Kudos to Neiman Marcus and its Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation for its commitment to providing state-of-the-art music instruction for all students. The proceeds for this event will fund music teachers for kindergarten through third grade students in the Irvine Unified School District.

Selected food photos courtesy of Michelle Nierman

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More is Definitely More!

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Joining me at the "More is More" exhibit at Gemological Institute of American in Carlsbad was late Tony Duquette co-designer and business partner Hutton Wilkinson

Joining me at the “More is More” jewelry exhibit at Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad was the late Tony Duquette’s co-designer and business partner, Hutton Wilkinson

Talk about a “Wow” evening! I knew my visit to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Carlsbad for the grand opening of legendary jewelry designers Tony Duquette’s and Hutton Wilkinson’s “More is More” exhibit would be grand, but I must admit, I didn’t expect it to be as spectacular as it was. The two men – the late Tony Duquette, a multitalented designer who created movie, dance and theater sets, interiors and jewelry for private clients, and his equally talented business partner and co-designer Hutton Wilkinson – were magic together. And, the jewelry is the proof!

Please take the time to view the photos I took of the stunning jewelry pieces they created. Wilkinson, attending the glamorous sold-out affair for 350 guests, said the two started picking up loose stones on their trips around the world, where they purchased bags upon bags of colorful gems and began constructing one-of-a-kind pieces in their hotel rooms. “We first started collecting stones in India,” Wilkinson shared. “We had suitcases filled with emeralds, sapphires, amethysts, and citrines.” He further shared that Bergdorf Goodman got wind of their one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry and invited them to create an exclusive, high-end jewelry line for the luxury retail store. The duo’s eye for color and combination of materials was avant-grade, flamboyant and totally unique, and their favorite stones turned out to be malachite, pearls, emeralds, tourmalines, coral, amethyst, citrines, and sapphires.

McKenzie Santimer, Project Manager for Exhibit Development at GIA, and Terry Ottaway, GIA’s Museum Curator, were responsible for showcasing the jewelry, and they did it in wonderfully artistic ways. Using items from the Duquette estate, they draped jewelry on bird cages and featured it with geodes of amethyst, malachite and tourmaline, as well as coral and shells. Gold is featured prominently, i.e. lobsters and picture frames, as Duquette was known for using gold leaf throughout his designed homes and movie sets. It was all exquisite! One of the stones Duquette was most known for was the semi-precious mineral called malachite. That’s why the 20-foot-high malachite print draperies that were featured in the exhibit entrance were so appropriate, as well as the jewelry vitrines lined in malachite fabric. One of the pieces of jewelry, called the “Pebble Bracelet,” was a cluster of multi-colored sapphires lying amidst of bed of succulents. It was magnificent. A suite of tourmaline jewelry draped over bulbous hunks of malachite took your breath away, and a coral necklace encrusted with popcorn-sized pearls and cabochon peridots was another showstopper. I could go on and on, but please look at the photos. They tell the story.

Johnny Holiday and his band entertained with Johnny and a talented singing twosome named Coco and Ruby singing ’30s and ’40s standards like “You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.”

Although Duquette has been gone since 1999, Wilkinson continues to create the bold, statement jewelry the duo became so known for. Wilkinson has captured their jewelry journey in a lavish book called “Tony Duquette/Hutton Wilkinson Jewelry” and much of the jewelry featured in the book is on display in the exhibit. It is a fun read hearing about how the Duchess of Windsor saw Duquette’s jewelry collection at his one-man show at the Louvre in Paris and commissioned him to a create a necklace of citrine, peridot and pearls. The 18k gold wreath of vines and flowers became a favorite of hers and started the trend of wearing gold jewelry after five o’clock. Most women wore only platinum jewelry at the time.

Other GIA executives greeting guests included President and CEO Susan Jacques, Manager of Photography and Visual Communications Robert Weldon and VP and Chief Marketing Officer Kathryn Kimmel.

The exhibit closes March 31st, so please visit the website, guestservices@gia.edu, for info and tickets. I promise you won’t regret it!

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