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601I always look forward to attending the National Philanthropy Day luncheon because I know I will be introduced to people in the community who are passionate about helping others. This year’s philanthropy luncheon – the 27th – was held at the Hyatt Regency Orange County in Garden Grove and drew 800 attendees to honor nine individuals, businesses and support groups for their outstanding work in the community.

I think it’s important to share a little bit of history about this event. National Philanthropy Day is celebrated on the same day in November each year and is sponsored by Association of Fundraising Professionals chapters in more than 100 communities throughout the US and Canada. NPD founder and Orange County resident Doug Freeman took his idea to celebrate philanthropy to then-President Ronald Reagan, and the first National Philanthropy Day was celebrated right here in Orange County. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?

This year’s endeavor, themed “Giving is Always in Season,” was chaired by AFP members Sally Lawrence and Sheri Nazaroff, with PBS-SoCal’s Maria Hall-Brown serving once again as the delightful mistress of ceremonies. Orange County Register Publisher Aaron Kushner (the Register has been Presenting Sponsor for 20 years) gave a passionate speech about the newspaper’s belief in supporting Orange County’s nonprofit community. He announced the newspaper was donating $12.4 million of free advertising to local nonprofits to be chosen by the paper’s most loyal subscribers. His announcement was greeted with heartfelt applause for the generous gesture.

Those honored included Joe Lins of Fullerton as Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser, especially for his work with the St. Jude’s Memorial Foundation. The 72-year-old Assistance League of Anaheim, represented by President Gail Taylor, received the Outstanding Philanthropic Group while S.D. Deacon Corporation in Irvine, represented by Executive Vice President Trent Jeppson, received the Outstanding Small Business award. The Outstanding Youth honor went to Nikita Urs of Santa Ana for her amazing work helping underprivileged and special-needs children.

The Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Joann Leatherby, who was introduced by a musical tribute performed by students from Chapman University’s College of Performing Arts. The Leatherby Libraries at Chapman is named after the Leatherby family. Chapman supporters and last year’s Lifetime Achievement award winners Marybelle and S. Paul Musco introduced the honoree, who jokingly said, “I’m a fundraising idiot. It’s in the Leatherby blood!” And then, more seriously, “I’m so blessed to have been raised by parents who had a deep belief in doing for others.”

Farmers & Merchants Bank, represented by Board Chair and CEO Daniel Walker and President W. Henry Walker (their grandfather founded the bank in 1922), received the Outstanding Mid-Size Corporation award. The bank donates $1 million to charity every year. Receiving the Outstanding Large Corporation award for PIMCO Foundation was its President Sarah Middleton. The foundation contributes more than $7 million to areas of urgent need annually, and its 8,864 employees volunteer for more than 100 nonprofits.

Honored for providing 618 educational scholarships valued at more than $20 million for disadvantaged students, Ron Simon, founder of the Simon Scholars Program and the Simon Foundation for Education and Housing, received the Outstanding Founder award. “This experience has been the most gratifying experience I’ve had in my life,” Simon said. Receiving the Outstanding Philanthropist award was Anaheim White House restaurant owner Bruno Serato, who was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of the Year in 2012 for his work feeding more than 300,000 ‘motel children’ daily pasta dinners and for his work moving motel families into their own apartments and assisting in renovating homes for the elderly and infirm through the Anaheim-based nonprofit Paint Your Heart Out.

Each honoree received a glass heart-shaped art piece created by local artist John Barber and net proceeds of $75,000 were later announced for AFP’s educational programs for philanthropy.

Photos: Robert Rooks