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Joining me at the Alzheimer's Association of Orange County's "Creating Hope" Gala was President/CEO Jim McAleer

Joining me at the Alzheimer’s Association of Orange County’s “Creating Hope” Gala was President/CEO Jim McAleer

The Alzheimer’s Association Orange County’s “Creating Hope” Gala at the Balboa Bay Resort was indeed a hopeful affair. The nonprofit is the primary resource in the county for patients and families battling Alzheimer’s by offering free services, including a 24/7 helpline, support groups, research trials, and educational materials, so that no matter the diagnosis, families and patients should always hold onto hope. The 300-guest fundraiser netted an impressive $380,000 towards that end, with a gigantic boost from Karl and Tina Weber, who generously gave a gift of $250,000. Before I tell you about the inspiring, wonderfully fun gala, I want to say how impressed I am with Jim McAleer, who serves as the President/CEO of Alzheimer’s Association Orange County. With the nonprofit for nearly 10 years, he has been instrumental in the growth of the chapter, from donors and volunteers to its amazing staff. Jim told me the Orange County chapter is tops out of 76 chapters in the nation for Media Impressions, Physician Outreach and Research Donations. That’s impressive! You just can’t say no to Jim. Who can resist that smile?!

Now, about the gala, guests were greeted during the cocktail reception by “framed” volunteers, who each held a large picture frame across one shoulder dressed as famous people, such as Albert Einstein, Jackie Robinson, Dr. Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, Rosie the Riveter, etc. They represented “hope” with what they accomplished and thus the gala’s ‘creating hope’ theme. Many guests posed with them. Purple martinis (the Alzheimer’s Association’s official color) drew many takers, as did the photo opportunity inside a huge silver frame with a variety of purple props, and, outside on the patio, a lovely young lady performed some amazing feats with fire.

The ballroom design was spectacular, thanks to Linda Young’s Elite OC Productions, who draped the ballroom walls in white with purple and pink uplighting and created a mix of rectangular and round tables draped either in purple linens or a silver/gray fabric. Along the walls, silver-gray wrapped tables were featured on raised platforms with white banquette seating against the walls and ghost chairs on the opposite side. Together with white floral centerpieces and LED lights changing colors, it was a statement. Following an impressive Cirque du Soleil-style two-person balancing act, McAleer welcomed everyone and thanked the gala sponsors, in particular, Presenting Sponsor, the Argyros Family Foundation, the Webers, the board of directors, Linda Young, the volunteers and staff, especially AAOC’s Associate VP of Development Margie White and CFO Kathleen Scatton, to whom he wished a happy birthday. Board Chairman Michelle Egerer stepped to the podium to introduce a heartwarming video showing Alzheimer’s Association’s work worldwide giving hope for treatment and a cure.

Gala chairs Dave and Eydie MacInnis shared their story of how Alzheimer’s has affected their lives through Dave’s father and Eydie’s mother and how AAOC has been so supportive. The honorees, who have all been touched by Alzheimer’s, were then introduced, with Dave recognizing Community Partner, Jeanne and Brett Lawrence. The Lawrences were thanked for offering their exotic Rancho Las Lomas site for many AAOC fundraisers. Having lost Rick Lawrence, Jeanne’s husband and Brett’s father, to Alzheimer’s after a long illness, Jeanne thanked McAleer and AAOC for being “an anchor.” Jody Hudson of First American Trust was honored as Volunteer Partner, with Hudson acknowledging AAOC as a “wonderful resource for our family.” Don Palmer, recognized as Philanthropy Partner, vowed to support the Alzheimer’s cause after his father-in-law developed the disease. “I’m impressed with the progress being made,” Palmer said, who was given a round of applause when it was acknowledged he was spending his 80th birthday at the gala. Lastly, Jacqueline Dupont, a 15-year AAOC board member, was honored as Corporate Partner for the generous resources she has deployed to AAOC through her businesses, Irvine Cottages and Assured in Home Care. Having had her grandfather die from the disease, she founded Irvine Cottages for him, she said. McAleer said, “When I need clinical advice for our families, Jacque is always there – at 2 o’clock in the morning!”

Auctioneer Zack Krone worked his magic in the live auction and Fund-A-Need portions of the evening, and Jeanne Lawrence’s other son, Richard Lawrence II, won the raffle prize, four Diamond Club seats with VIP parking at an Angels vs. Indians game. Guest artist Taylor Hicks, Season 5 American Idol winner, entertained, oft times with harmonica in hand, singing his signature blend of blues and country, with Elton John’s “Levon” and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Just Love Her So” part of the mix. All in all, the gala was a more than hopeful tribute to the work Alzheimer’s Association Orange County is doing in the arena of treatment and a cure for a disease that touches all of us.

Selected photos by Ashleigh Magnus and John Gilhooley