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Burton, Linda and Stuart Young joined me for a photo at Casa Teresa's Mother of the Year benefit

Burton, Linda and Stuart Young joined me in a photo at Casa Teresa’s Mother of the Year benefit

Casa Teresa’s annual “Mother of the Year” benefit is such a heartwarming affair. I always depart with a great deal of admiration for the women honored and for the young, pregnant women the nonprofit has taken under its wing to guide into a better life as a self-sufficient adult and, if they choose to parent their baby, a loving mother.

This year’s fundraiser for 258 guests was held at the Hyatt Regency Irvine and was hosted once again by passionate Casa Teresa supporter Carol McDermott. I say “passionate” because she always speaks about motherhood with words that draw you in and warm your heart. Not having been a mother myself, but raised by an amazing mother, who guided, encouraged, supported, and above all, loved me, I feel I can relate. McDermott shared, referencing Mother Teresa, Casa Teresa’s namesake, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” See what I mean?

Casa Teresa’s Executive Director Stacey Proctor spoke about the nonprofit’s commitment to providing a temporary home, life skills and education programs for pregnant women 18 years and older who are alone. “Casa Teresa is home, safety, future, and love to each of our residents,” she said. Proctor said as of January, the professional staff increased from 20 to 31, the new Emergency Maternity Shelter opened to serve 15 to 20 more women, and the new Dr. James Pugh Alumni Resource Center, named after the nonprofit’s beloved and long-serving program director, opened to help alumnae stay on the right path.

Proctor recognized the event committee, which included CT Board Chair Regina Hunsaker, who along with committee members Susan Strader and Sally Sullivan are past Mother of the Year recipients, Barbara Roppolo, Lyrissa Roman, and McDermott. She also introduced 12 Casa Mothers, which was followed by a riveting video about one of them. Danielle came to Casa Teresa after being in and out of prison and bad relationships. Expecting a little boy in June, she is studying to obtain her GED and in the process of reuniting with one of her children. “I am who I am today because of Casa Teresa,” she said.

The three mothers receiving Casa Teresa’s Mother of the Year award were recognized for balancing motherhood, community involvement, philanthropy, and professional endeavors. Each received a beautiful statuette designed by C. Payne. First up was the Mayor of Orange, Teresa “Tita” Smith, proud mother of four children, who has an extensive record of community service, notably with the Catholic Charities of Orange County, for which she is currently executive director. Confessing she was on the eve of her 45th anniversary to husband Bill, she said he has been her “beacon of hope.”

Surviving terminal leukemia with four small children 25 years ago and, later, two breast cancers didn’t stop San Juan Capistrano resident Diana Brutoco from embracing life and motherhood. Crediting Rudi, her husband of 39 years, with making her stronger and better “because you have so loved me,” Diana summed up motherhood, saying, “Despite all the challenges and round-the-clock hours, this job – this vocation – offers unequaled joy and fulfillment.”

I must tell you I was thrilled Newport Beach resident Linda Young was honored. I know Linda as an accomplished business woman, having owned a very successful gift basket company before launching her equally successful event production company, Elite OC Productions. I also know her as a loving wife of 20 years to Burton (“He is truly the rock of our entire family,” she said of him) and doting mother to 17-year-old Stuart, who she said “lights up my life every day.” Linda shared that she had agonized over Stuart’s birth, with her doctor telling her he would likely be born with Down Syndrome. It tells you a lot about her faith because Stuart turned out to be an extraordinary young man, both in and out of the classroom!

The evening concluded with friends and family members of all three honorees meeting and mingling and sharing stories about their lives. I told you it is always a heartwarming affair! The effort realized net proceeds of $103,000 and counting!

Clever Auction Item: Gorgeous bouquets of fresh flowers were featured in the silent auction. Mother’s Day was two days away, so some forgetful husbands were saved!