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Joining me at CASA's 16th Annual Holiday Luncheon are, from left, co-chairs Janine Wald and Jaynine Warner and Celebrity MC Gregory Zarian

Joining me at CASA OC’s 16th Annual Holiday Luncheon are, from left, co-chairs Janine Wald and Jaynine Warner and Celebrity MC Gregory Zarian

I always love attending CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) fundraising events because I meet people who are making a huge difference in the lives of foster children lost in the welfare system. And, besides that, the events are lots of fun!

CASA’s 16th Annual Holiday Luncheon, held at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, was hosted by its support group Friends of CASA. The festive soiree attracted 575 guests and showcased a runway of fashions from M Missoni at South Coast Plaza. Not only that, TV personality, fashion guru and very funny guy Gregory Zarian served as MC, strutting his stuff on the runway, saying, “If I’m hosting an event and there’s a runway, I have to do it!”

The fundraiser was chaired by Jaynine Warner and Janine Wald, who I had met earlier at a Junior League “Christmas Company” event. They told me they were both introduced to CASA through Junior League. “The impact CASA has through its advocates is so important,” Wald said, to which Warner added, “The experience changes the course of their lives forever.”

CASA Orange County CEO Gene Howard introduced the CASA video, showing the amazing work the charity does in training volunteers to mentor and advocate for abused, abandoned and neglected children. “There are more than 2,000 children in the foster care system in Orange County who could benefit by having a CASA advocate, and we are reaching 800,” Howard said.

The event’s keynote speaker Evelyn Gibson brought the message home. She was honored as “Child Advocate of the Year” by CASA OC in 1990 and as CASA’s National “Child Advocate of the Year” in 2007. Having been an advocate for an amazing 50 children, Gibson said, “We show up in the lives of children who have had everything taken from them and show them a different kind of love. I can only say it’s been an incredible experience, with 50 remarkable children who have impacted my life with their courage.” Howard presented a visibly touched Gibson with a shadow box made by a CASA child as a token of the nonprofit’s gratitude for her message and her work.

Lugano Diamonds, the event’s title sponsor, provided two exquisite diamond bangles valued at $18,000 for the opportunity prize. Lugano President and Design Director Moti Ferder drew the winning ticket, which was won by a very happy Natalia Belaya.

Wald and Warner recognized and thanked M Missoni’s Lindsay Kordik and Selena Perlmutter, Kathryn Cenci, South Coast Plaza’s Director of Community Relations, who introduced M Missoni to CASA, Chris Gialanella and Tina Borgatta from Riviera Magazine, CASA’s media sponsor, Lugano Diamonds, and Linda Young’s Elite OC Productions, who was in charge of producing the event, including the gorgeous holiday tables with chartreuse sequined table linens and towering glass vase centerpieces filled with chartreuse and cobalt blue ornaments topped with a giant profusion of green and white hydrangeas and roses. It was a statement!

Many guests contributed through the Sponsor a Child cards available on the luncheon tables, as well as picking foster children’s wishes disguised as starfish ornaments on Starfish Wish trees throughout the venue. Together with Sponsor a Child, Lugano Diamond’s opportunity prize offering and a jam-packed silent auction, $260,000 was netted for the cause. Guests departed with a custom M Missoni cuff from the generous retailer, and the after-party, sponsored by Kathryn Grant, was held at 180blu, The Ritz’s oceanfront lounge.

Selected photos by Happy Photos