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IMG_3452I loved seeing the young people lining the reception entry and the stairs to the grand ballroom at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Dream Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. Their sweet smiles belied the fact that these kids all have type 1 diabetes, so it really brought the message home. Living with having to take insulin every day of your life in order to stay alive is a message that JDRF Orange County takes to heart, and every year they host a black-tie gala in order to raise money for research to find a cure for the dreaded disease.

This year’s effort was especially meaningful with its “Lighting the Way to a Cure” theme, which was beautifully carried out featuring chandeliers as a decor element. A 15-foot three-tiered glass case sparkling with three glittering chandeliers on the terrace and the huge crystal ballroom chandeliers banded in burnished yellow dupioni silk were spectacular. The dinner table linens in black, platinum or a charming dahlia print were the backdrop for the stunning floral centerpieces using the ball’s signature colors – black, white and yellow – with many of the tables centered by four-foot black candelabra with white tapers and yellow electric flickers. Kudos to Linda Young’s Elite OC Productions for the effort!

The 370-guest gala, which was emceed by the ever-popular and terrifically humorous Bill Peters, whose day job is Louis Vuitton’s client relations director at its South Coast Plaza store, honored JDRF’s Dream Guild, founded in 2005 by Jennifer Condas, Elyse Roberts and Adrienne Thomas. The “fashionistas in stilettos,” as Peters calls the 100-member support group, have donated more than $1million to JDRF through hosting luxury fundraising events. Peters recognized the guild’s presidents, including founding president Jennifer Condas, Ann Winthrope, Julie Hellmers, and current president Donna Longo. Wells Fargo, California Region, was also recognized for its support, with Executive Vice President Mark Brennerman accepting the honor.

Gala chair Cindi Morales thanked her advisory committee – Condas, Hellmers and Heather Madden, all of whom have chaired the fundraiser – auction chairs Beth Bidna and Christina Ferguson, cuisine chairs Analisa Albert and Pamela Lowry (dinner was superb!), wine auction committee Bob Loewen, Eric Seedman and John Stoner, and her entire gala committee.

Nicole Johnson, Miss America 1999, was guest speaker. Diagnosed in 1993 with type 1 diabetes, Johnson wears an insulin pump and has helped raise more than $26 million for diabetes research over the years. Her inspirational message touched hearts as she related she was told when she was diagnosed that she should avoid stress and never plan on having children. The crowd erupted in applause when she introduced her seven-year-old daughter Ava and announced she was receiving her doctorate in Public Health in two weeks from the University of South Florida. Johnson closed singing a stirring rendition of “That’s Life,” the song she sang when she was crowned Miss America.

Other highlights included 12-year-old friends Katherine Hellmers and Caroline Brewster sharing that they had raised $500 for JDRF selling “Kiss Diabetes Good-bye” mistletoe during the holidays. The luxury-packed live auction saw Christina Ferguson win the opportunity to design her own Burberry Bespoke trench coat for $4,750 and Missy Callero win the Saks Fifth Avenue Day of Fashion and Fun for 10 ladies for the same price. Not to be outdone, Missy’s husband Chris Callero won the boxed wine set of Sine Qua Non for $4,000. Greg Bates went all out for wife Joanne Leatherby by spending $5,000 on a pair of shoes monthly for six months (not to exceed $700 per pair) from Neiman Marcus Fashion Island and a monthly lunch for six months in its Mariposa Restaurant. It was announced that Private Trade Winds, who has offered fabulous trips for five years running to the gala’s auction, was offering 20% of net sales proceeds to JDRF from trips booked with them. Delighted opportunity prize winners were announced featuring a Jaeger LeCoultre watch, Montblanc bracelet and South Coast Plaza $1,000 gift certificate and valet pass.

Guests departed with an elegant crystal votive from Neiman Marcus, and net proceeds were later reported to be $450,000 for research to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Psst…Peters gave a “Happy Birthday” shout-out to Dream Guild member Pame Schmider, who looked gorgeous in a beautiful pink-themed gown.

Selected photos: Carla Rhea