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Joining me at National Philanthropy Day at Hotel Irvine were the Outstanding Legacy Award recipients, General William and Willa Dean Lyon

Joining me at National Philanthropy Day at Hotel Irvine were the Outstanding Legacy Award recipients, General William and Willa Dean Lyon

It was a full ballroom – 855 people, in fact – who gathered at Hotel Irvine to celebrate the 29th annual Orange County’s National Philanthropy Day, this year themed “Giving is Always in Season.” One of my favorite events, it honors a group of individuals, nonprofits and businesses who represent philanthropy at its finest. Hosted by the Orange County Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), co-chairs Kristine Peters and Mitchell Spann welcomed everyone and asked their committee, past honorees and the nominees to stand and be recognized.

Following the presentation of colors by Air Force ROTC Unit 055 from UCLA and the singing of “God Bless America,” led by the quartet, The Overtones, from Orange County School of the Arts, PBS So Cal stars Maria Hall Brown and Rick Reiff, serving as mistress and master of ceremonies, stepped to the podium. They recognized the 36-member judging committee, led by Pat Poss and Jill Bolton, as well as the event’s Honorary Chair, Victoria Collins. Collins, a 2013 honoree for Outstanding Philanthropist, quoted Margaret Mead, saying, “‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. It’s the only thing that ever has.'” It was certainly apt for the event.

AFP Orange County President Chris Baiocchi shared that more than 100 AFP chapters around the country were also celebrating NPD and referring to the AFP’s mission, he stated, “Our members believe in the power of ethical and effective fundraising, and we believe everyone in philanthropy – donors, volunteers and staff – are doing noble work in the community.”

Then, the awards were presented, with each honoree receiving a beautiful award created by artist John Barber. First up was the Outstanding Youth award presented to Ariel Yarrish, who founded Future in Humanity to help Orange County’s homeless in 2011 at age 20. Baiocchi announced that the AFP Orange County chapter was designating $2,500 from its foundation to a charity of Yarrish’s choice. She indicated that Future in Humanity would be the recipient. Baiocchi also presented Yarrish with a $750 check from AFP-OC’s Scholarship Fund for her continuing development and education.

Sal Provenza received the Outstanding Philanthropic Group award on behalf of the Building Block Foundation Fund, for which he is chairman. The fund, established in 2004, includes members of the commercial real estate community, who have collectively given $2 million to children-related charities since its founding. John Most, founder of MOST Brand Development + Advertising accepted the award for his business as Outstanding Small Corporation (less than 50 employees), and Ralph Linzmeier, Jr. was presented the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser award for his countless hours of service to a variety of Orange County nonprofit causes.

PBS SoCal’s President and GM/COO, Mel Rogers and Andy Russell, respectively, presented the Outstanding Mid-Size Corporation award (50 to 499 employees) to Rutan & Tucker LLC, California’s largest full-service law firm, headquartered in Orange County. Accepting the award was Managing Partner Steven Nichols.

The Outstanding Large Corporation award (500+ employees) was presented to ACT (Accelerate Change Together) Anaheim, which includes Disneyland Resort, Anaheim Ducks and Angels Baseball. Managed by the Orange County Community Foundation, it is dedicated to meeting the needs of youth in Anaheim. Accepting the award was Disneyland Resort President Michael Colglazier, Anaheim Ducks’ owners Drs. Henry and Susan Samueli and Angels Baseball Foundation Chairman Mark Merhab.

Je’net Kreitner was presented the Founder award for her work as founder/executive director of Grandma’s House of Hope, an organization that seeks to empower more than 3,500 underserved women, children and families annually in Orange County. Doug Freeman, founder of National Philanthropy Day, presented the Outstanding Philanthropist award to Catherine Klein Sorensen, who stated, “Volunteerism is the integral force in philanthropy.”

And last, but certainly not least, was the Outstanding Legacy Award, presented to General William and Will Dean Lyon by honorary chair Victoria Collins. The couple has been active supporters of Orangewood Children’s Foundation, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Boy Scouts of America, and the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of United Way for many years, with William serving as board chairman for each nonprofit.  Willa Dean got Bill interested in Orangewood in the ’70s and their charity involvement and support grew from there. “It’s been a joy to see Orangewood grow,” Willa Dean tearfully stated.

NPD-OC’s longtime Presenting Sponsor, the Orange County Register, was represented by its Publisher Aaron Kushner, who spoke about the newspaper’s third annual Golden Envelope program, which encourages the public to determine which Orange County nonprofits receive up to $2 million in free advertising.

The quote of the day came from Rutan & Tucker’s Steven Nichols, who said, “It has been said that you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” Philanthropy in a nutshell!

Selected photos courtesy of Jim Doyle