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Joining me at the KidSingers' 18th Annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine are KidSingers' founders Paul and Beverly McNeff

Joining me at the KidSingers’ 18th Annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine are KidSingers’ founders Paul and Beverly McNeff

Paul and Beverly McNeff are quite a team. Seventeen years ago they founded KidSingers, an award-winning, inner city, after-school chorus based in Santa Ana for grades 3-12, and they are passionate about how it helps kids grow musically and also in self-esteem, as well as a sense of their purpose and place in the world. “Bev and I love making a difference in the life of a child,” Paul said at the nonprofit’s 18th annual Gala Benefit Dinner & Auction held at the Wyndham Hotel in Irvine.

With the theme, “Song of America,” there was a lot of red, white and blue decor and each of the 110 guests received a patriotic lei as they arrived. The silent auction drew interest with lots of tempting items, and the treasure chest filled with $100 of California lottery tickets prompted many ticket sales. Matt Stensby turned out to be the lucky winner!

Once guests were seated for dinner, Paul welcomed everyone and acknowledged the gala sponsors, which included the two title sponsors Griswold Industries, represented CEO Martin Pickett, and Altman Family Foundation, represented by Marla Altman. The gala’s Ovation Sponsor, Stauffer Graphic Design, was also recognized along with Alice Stauffer and Linda Bell, which was followed by Paul and Evelina Galvan, “KidSingers’ alumnus extraordinaire,” as Paul called her, singing the beautiful duet, “The Prayer.”

Beverly, gala emcee, who is called “Mrs. Cool” by the KidSingers, talked about the program, which involves 100 kids each year. “Together we’re helping them experience the dream of America,” she said, “and we want to celebrate this great country that gives us all so many wonderful opportunities.” She introduced 30 of the KidSingers, who performed “Song of America,” with Kimberly Baker directing, Vicki Cooke accompanying, and soloists Trisha Aguirre and Melanie Hernandez singing solos. The kids just sparkled singing in their red sequined vests!

Talking more about the KidsSingers’ program, Beverly said that thousands of kids lives have been changed for the better. “The kids are off the streets, they’re going to school and excelling, they’re dreaming of becoming doctors, physicists, teachers, and productive members of society who want to give back,” she said. With that said, the KidSingers sang a rousing arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine,” directed by Dalyn Shutts, with Guadalupe Gurrola and Itsai Casillas performing solos.

The McNeffs honored two longtime supporters, who have been with them since the founding of KidSingers – Marla Altman and Lois O’Donoghue, whose husbands Dave and Michael, respectively, have since passed on. “Together, you have led the way in supporting the KidSingers program with your time, talents and financial support,” Paul said. Each was presented a beautiful “Song of America Award.” Board member Bill Kasal was also recognized for his expertise in producing the KidSinger’s “Song of American” video, which premiered at the gala. The KidSingers’ testimonials on the video touched hearts, as did Justin Fletcher’s onsite testimony to his seven years as a KidSinger. He stated proudly that he is a second-year honor student at Cal State Fullerton, thanks to his $4,500 KidSingers scholarship. “Thank you, KidSingers, for changing my life,” he said.

A fun Heads and Tails game, whereby guests guess one or the other with a coin toss each time and eventually, there is one person standing. Lucky Josette Pierre was left standing to collect $455, the 50/50 split of $910. And, master auctioneer Zack Krone led a fun live auction, which saw Mike Kirtland win the chance to conduct the KidSingers at their popular Holiday Concert at the Nixon Library on December 14th. When I asked him about it, he said he was bidding for his wife Colleen, since he had already won the auction item at another gala. Together with Fund-A-Need, the auctions and ticket monies, the effort garnered $40,000 for the KidSingers’ program. As Paul said, when telling me why he believes in the program, “I just love to see the light come on in these kids!” ‘Nuff said!