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IMG_3797It was Kentucky Derby time at this year’s Human Options’ “Serious Fun” fundraiser at the Balboa Bay Resort. Mint juleps were de rigueur and guests took the theme to heart with the ladies wearing beautiful picture hats and stylish attire and the guys opting for elegant suits and jackets – some seersucker – with more than a few wearing hats as well. After perusing the silent auction in the courtyard, where artist Jesse Fortune (great name!) was painting a stunning view of Newport Harbor and the resort for the auction, the 340 guests gathered in the ballroom for dinner, auction and dancing.

I loved the centerpieces, which were three gorgeous long-stemmed pink roses in a silver and crystal horseshoe container alongside a stuffed white pony (see photo). How’s that for a Derby centerpiece?! Board President Artyn Gardner welcomed everyone, thanking the nonprofit’s board of directors, event chairs and their committee. The chairs, who included Pame Schmider, Beth Bidna, Eric Finley, and Gail Ross (who was unable to attend due to an illness in the family), stepped up to the podium, whereupon Schmider exclaimed, “The Kentucky Derby has nothing on us!” With that said, we were asked to pick a horse’s name from an envelope at the table and suddenly a video of a Kentucky Derby race was on the screen (this was May 3rd – before the big race), from start to finish. Everyone who picked “Mine That Bird” won the centerpiece. How clever! Clearly, the fun part of the Serious Fun party was underway!!

Now, to the serious part of the evening. If you’ve met Human Options’ co-founder and CEO Vivian Clecak, you’ll remember it. She may be tiny – less than 5 feet! – but she is mighty! Thirty-one years ago, she and three other women began a domestic violence hotline staffed by volunteers, and Vivian’s office was the trunk of her car. “Today,” she said of Human Options at the benefit, “our programs work and 90% (of the women) are violence free a year out.”

Clecak introduced longtime Human Options’ supporters and mother/daughter team Elaine Weinberg and Nancy Dahan to present the nonprofit’s Dove Award. Referring to Elaine and her late husband Martin, Clecak said, “They stood for social justice and raised five attorneys who fight for social justice and care for the empowerment of women and children.” Nancy said, “The legacy that my parents began is beautiful, and we are lucky to be in a community who wants to help others.”

One of the Human Options’ shelter graduates, Ingrid Blackwelder, spoke about her life as a victim of domestic violence. She said she stayed in her abusive marriage for eight years and finally left with her two small children and went to Human Options for help. “I have Human Options to thank for putting me in the right direction when I needed it most,” Ingrid said. She has since become an accomplished business woman and gives much credit to her success to her 20-year marriage to Clide Blackwelder, who she acknowledged along with their two children, Natalie and Jaemin.

Please note the smiling lady in my photos, who I sat next to at dinner. Her name is Kristine Ward. She is a HO graduate, and her smile says it all. “I was totally blessed to be in Human Options’ Second Step program,” she said with a radiant smile. “It stabilized me, helped me recognize my self worth and made me accountable for my decisions.” It doesn’t get any better than that!

Auctioneer Dawn Kotsonis did her magic in the live and Rebuild-A-Life auctions, which helped garner more than $300,000 in net proceeds for the nonprofit.

psst…the dessert duo, a roasted pecan ice cream ball and lemon meringue torte, was  awesome! I love dessert. Can you tell?!